A longtime Lynchburg pediatrician will open an autism treatment center this fall for children and families.
The Rimland Center for Integrative Medicine, at 2919 Confederate Ave. off Old Forest Road, will open in September, said its founder, Dr. Elizabeth Mumper.
Mumper’s traditional pediatric practice, Advocates for Children, is a component of the new center, which includes Advocates for Families, a new autism evaluation and treatment specialty. The expanded practice will include a family physician, part-time employee Dr. Kyle Van Dyke, who will work with adults.
Plans call for the center to become a resource for local, national and international patients as well as for autism specialists who treat children with the developmental disorder that affects the ability to communicate and to interact with others.
The center is named in honor of the late Bernard Rimland, famed psychologist who in the 1960s upended theories about autism being caused by bad parenting and the emotional coldness of “refrigerator mothers.” Instead, he held that autism is a biochemical disorder, perhaps with a genetic basis, that could be triggered by substances in the child’s environment - but could also be treated.
Rimland founded the nonprofit Autism Research Institute (ARI), and DAN, Defeat Autism Now, an associated nonprofit organization. Mumper is medical director for both.
Rimland died at age 78 not quite a year ago.
“The open house (Nov. 3 and 4) will be on the anniversary of his death,” said Mumper, whose Advocates For Children practice will begin seeing patients at the new building on Sept. 17.
If the address of The Rimland Center seems familiar, its 1.8 acres was home for years to a busy Ob-Gyn practice and later became a gynecology specialty practice. When that group practice moved, the building became available.
Its unusual design has the waiting room situated so the patients can look out onto a peaceful garden area, which has a water feature as a centerpiece, a wooden footbridge accent, and a redbrick walk around the pool’s perimeter.
Mumper said that area would be reworked to make it more child-safe. Inside the building, changes will include conversion of one office into a playroom. The waiting room area will be redesigned to include a kitchen/dining area so that families can learn to understand and prepare the specialized diets that are a feature of Rimland’s autism treatment concept.
Hyperbaric treatment chambers and an infrared sauna will be available for children who need a detoxification regimen. Some experts believe that autistic children can have impaired metabolism. They develop a buildup of toxins that pose no problem for children without autism.
Biomedical evaluation at The Rimland Center will be in-depth.
Mumper said a small dorm-like building is planned so some far-traveling families can stay there during the assessments and remain for diet training.
Most recent data estimates that about 1 in 150 children have autism, which was once thought to have a low prevalence rate of about 2 in 10,000, said Mumper.
She says the most likely cause is genetic predisposition and environmental trigger.
The rapid increase doesn’t fit with genetic mutation, she said. “We’re concerned about a variety of environmental or infectious triggers. Some of the newer research is looking at pesticides and air pollution.”
Other toxin suspects include mercury and lead. And much controversial research involves vaccines, and the measles virus, as well as other viruses that may trigger autism.
“The word autism just refers to a constellation of behavioral characteristics - impairments in language, impairments in socialization, desire for sameness, ritualistic behavior,” she said. “Imbedded in that is nothing about causation.”
What caused autism in one child may not have caused in it another.
Mumper does not agree with those who say that autism hasn’t increased, but that diagnosis has improved.
If that were true, she asked, where are the 40- and 50-year-old adults who have autism - those who some critics of the improved diagnosis theory have called the “the hidden horde.”
Autism prevalence cuts across races, Mumper said, “but it is very much a male problem as opposed to a female problem - 4:1 boy to girl.”
The experts once said that autism was a forever diagnosis. Mumper says, “autism is treatable and some recover.”
She thinks the puzzle of autism’s cause will likely be solved across specialties.
Autism research is under way by geneticists, psychologists, molecular biologists and pediatricians.
“All biology is very synergistic,” Mumper said. “An abnormality in one area impacts other body systems.”
When deciding to open the specialty center as an international Autism Research Institute site, said Mumper, “I thought a lot about ‘should I do it in Lynchburg? Because that’s where I am and that’s where a good staff is - or should I put it in a bigger city?’”
A bigger city would mean more local patients, but “the most crucial part of this kind of collaboration is that staff can work together” for the patient.
“I was scared I couldn’t find the kind of staff I have here now, if I tried to do this somewhere else.”
“One of the potential drawbacks - the fact that it is difficult to fly here,” she said. “On the other hand this is a healing environment and the cost here is lower than elsewhere. If we ask a family to come for three weeks of assessments and treatments, and they had to stay in a hotel in L.A. it becomes unreachable.”
The Rimland Center also will train practicing physicians in the concepts used at the center.
Medical resources for autism treatment are needed in the area said Didi Zaryczny, autism resource specialist with Commonwealth Autism Services.
“For the families we’re working with, there’s a huge need. The numbers are increasing every day.
“There are a lot of medical issues that may come into play with autism that sometimes affect behavior - that flows into the home, the school community,” said Zaryczny, mother of a teenager with autism.
“Whenever we’re working with a family on behaviors, we look at the medial piece first to make sure nothing medical is going on,” she said. Some children on the autism spectrum are nonverbal, or are unable to appropriately describe what may be on, she said.
Zaryczny, whose son has improved under Mumper’s specialized care, said that she’s excited about the expansion. “I think it will be a great resource.” That’s especially true, she said for Bedford parents because the new location will be easy to find. “I think it’s a really good thing.”