The Autism Epidemic

The CDC estimated that rate of autism for 8-year-olds in the United States is one in 88 children. Why are there so many people with autism today? Consider that no one was autistic before 1944 -because the condition had not been named or described until then. By 1953, one doctor said the diagnosis had “threatens to become a fashion.” Is autism over-diagnosed or is it more prevalent for some reason? Or could it be that awareness and better diagnostic techniques identify people with autism that would have once been labeled as something else?
To most experts in autism and autism epidemiology, the biggest factors accounting for the boost in autism prevalence are the shifting definitions and increased awareness about the disorder. Several decades after the introduction of autism as a diagnosis, researchers have reported that professionals are still engaging in “diagnostic substitution”: moving people from one diagnostic category, such as “mental retardation” or “language impairment,” to the autism category. For instance, in one recent study, researchers at UCLA re-examined a population of 489 children who’d been living in Utah in the 1980s. Their first results, reported in 1990, identified 108 kids in the study population who received a classification of “challenged” (what we consider today to be “intellectually disabled”) but who were not diagnosed as autistic. When the investigators went back and applied today’s autism diagnostic criteria to the same 108 children, they found that 64 of them would have received an autism diagnosis today, along with their diagnosis of intellectual disability.

Further evidence of this shift comes from developmental neuropsychologist Dorothy Bishop and colleagues, who completed a study involving re-evaluation of adults who’d been identified in childhood as having a developmental language disorder rather than autism. Using two diagnostic tools to evaluate them today, Bishops’ group found that a fifth of these adults met the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis when they previously had not been recognized as autistic.

Another strong argument against the specter of an emergent autism epidemic is that prevalence of the disorder is notably similar from country to country and between generations. A 2011 UK study of a large adult population found a consistent prevalence of 1% among adults, “similar to that found in (UK) children” and about where the rates are now among US children. In other words, they found as many adults as there were children walking around with autism, suggesting stable rates across generations—at least, when people bother to look at adults. And back in 1996, Lorna Wing (the autism expert who’d translated Asperger’s seminal paper) tentatively estimated an autism spectrum disorder prevalence of 0.91% [PDF] based on studies of children born between 1956 and 1983, close to the 1% that keeps popping up in studies today.

It appears that quite a few people that were warehoused in insane asylums in previous centuries would now be diagnosed more accurately. Read a lot more about the rates of autism at The Crux. Link

(Image credit: Flickr user dierk schaefer)

Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

My uncle was born in 1944. For years, a family joke was how he would corner people and talk to them incessantly about seemingly irrelevant topics. He was oblivious to the exasperation of those he cornered and was never offended by their expressions of annoyance.

And he had an encyclopedic knowledge of mechanical things, such as cars.

After his death one year ago, we reflected on his peculiar habits and personality. And it dawned on us...he was autistic.

They just didn't have a word for it when he was a kid.

Additionally, this study in South Korea: make me think that autism isn't a disorder as much as a normal human condition.

I wonder how many geniuses were actually autistic to some degree. And then I wonder how many geniuses are we losing now because of our need to "treat" autism.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
I've read elsewhere [citation needed] that Autism is correlated with the age of the _parents_ as well as correlated with parent's math/science/programming proclivity. People start families a decade older now than, say, 1944. And the significantly stronger societal polarisation is more likely to bring together math/science/programmer types together than in, say, 1944.

Diagnosis has surely improved but I fully expect prevalence has also increased.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
There is growing evidence that indicates a lack of fermented foods in our diet, due to the advent of processed meals and refrigeration, is changing the chemistry of the brain leading to more individuals exhibiting signs of autism.
Below is a link to one site, yet I recommend googling 'Fermented Food and Autism', to help with your own digestive flora and to aid someone you know with autism. It may not cure the individual, yet it has been shown to 'assist' autistic traits and cognative functioning.
I hope this comment opens personal research for someone, and benefits the life of a human on the extremes of the Autistic Spectrum that they are caring for.
Here is the link yet please research further.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
@smartss the problem is not with the trick cyclists. The problem is that many kids are being diagnosed as autistic or worse still "on the autistic spectrum" by practitioners with no psychiatric training. I've heard of cases of schools labeling students as autistic on their permanent record without any medical diagnosis whatsoever.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.
Email This Post to a Friend
"The Autism Epidemic"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More