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Wednesday, January 17th 2007

The Autism Epidemic "Myth"?

My opinion that an increase in autisms numbers reflects an expansion on the “definition” and diagnosis and not on an actual increase in the occurrence of the disease means nothing. However, Slate has a look at the numbers.

The numbers of autistic children on the rolls of the California Department of Developmental Services, for example, swelled 634 percent from 1987 to 2003. Similar increases have been reported in other states. Thirty years ago, autism was thought to occur in one in 2,000 children; prevalence rates put it at about one in 200.

Unstrange Minds argues that,

the rise in autism diagnosis is nothing more than an epidemic of discovery.

Slate goes on in the review of the book to list why the rate of diagnosis might have increased,

The most important cause of the increase in autism diagnoses was the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that required states to provide suitable education to autistics and to create registries for them.

Some of them point to the fact that autism is a “spectrum” diagnosis. It is liberal at times (very liberal at times) and you need to keep in mind that the range of disability or disease is incredibly wide from those with “true” autism to those with simply more “functional” autism.

Autism has become a trendy diagnosis, and at times a useful one to stretch. “I am incredibly disciplined in the diagnostic classifications in my research,” Judy Rapoport, a senior child psychiatrist at the National Institutes of Health, tells Grinker, “but in my private practice, I’ll call a kid a zebra if it will get him the educational services I think he needs.”

Grinker, the author of Unstrange Minds, sums it up nicely,

“I am not sure why people are so resistant to the idea that true autism rates may have remained stable,” Grinker writes. “Perhaps they don’t want to give up on the hope that, if only we could find the cause of the ‘epidemic’ we could help these children. We could eliminate the toxins, hold big corporations accountable, do something to reverse the trend. If there is no real epidemic, we might just have to admit that no one is to blame.” There’s one more thing to be said for the cries of “epidemic”—they get the research money flowing.

Sorry vaccine-nuts but the rates of true autism are not on the rise, and there’s no evidence that the mercury/or preservatives in vaccines are causing the non-existent increase.

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