Autism is defined in any number of ways, but is largely still a label of convenience created by psychiatrists to describe a spectrum of neurological conditions that can affect an individuals’ speech and communication, emotional growth, social skills, and physical and mental abilities.
At the core and throughout its history, Rimland believes that “autism is not a condition, but rather, an intrinsic part of the individual with autism’s self-identity and personality.” There is no cure, but with a structured approach, individuals with autism can work towards inclusion in mainstream society rather than continuing to be isolated.
Because her young son was turned away from every metro Chicago-area school, Rosalind Oppenheim lead a parent-initiated charge, entered the teaching profession, and created The Rimland School for Autistic Children in 1971. There was simply no alternative. Believing as she did that her son was a whole person, not a disabled, lesser individual to be infantilized, she “undertook to educate him herself.” The Rimland School was named to honor Dr. Bernhard Rimland, who devoted himself to the study of autism because of his own son, and helped restore a sense of dignity to individuals with autism and the families that support them.
Mrs. Oppenheim did not believe in preconceived notions about a ceiling on the child with autism’s ability to learn. Perhaps because there were no previously established guidelines about either what or how to teach children with autism, she felt free to venture into teaching areas which no one else had previously investigated, particularly non-verbal youngsters. From the very beginning, Mrs. Oppenheim created a highly structured, “reality-oriented” curriculum for the Rimland School, based on operant conditioning (reward-based learning) that includes an individualized, targeted plan of approach, ICAP (Inventories for Client & Agency Planning), focusing on a balance of educational skills, social adjustment, and emotional growth.
Rimland still focuses on the same three fields: through our Developmental Training Center, our Health & Wellness program, and in our series of Residential Homes throughout the Chicago-land area. The residents and students are all adults, having matriculated out of every other private and state-based school and/or organization. Rimland is a pioneer in many ways: our leadership, our staff, and our residents, and the success we’ve had teaching adult individuals with classic Autism.
As it stands today, Rimland is a unique and necessary addition to the care and inclusion of adults with profound autism. In 45 years, Rosalind Oppenheim’s legacy has continued to grow and flourish…and our leadership, staff, and residents look forward to the next 45 years (and more!).
Video – 45 Years of Service for People with Autism
YouTube link: https://youtu.be/y0E2R70gYDo