On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control reported that autism has risen 78 percent over the past 10 years – to the point where now 1 in 88 children (and 1 in 55 boys) now are diagnosed with it. These numbers are simply staggering and many within the autism community expressed their sadness and disappointment in this development.
Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, said in a statement Thursday:
“With the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers now showing that 1 in 88 children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism – nearly a doubling of the prevalence since the CDC began tracking these numbers – autism can now officially be declared an epidemic in the United States.
We are dealing with a national emergency that is in need of a national strategy. At 1 in 88, we now have over 1 million children directly affected by autism. According to a newly released study the annual cost of autism in the United States is a staggering $126 billion annually, more than tripling the cost analysis from six years ago.”
Think about it, nearly DOUBLE the number of children are being diagnosed with autism in only the past 10 years! According to these figures, a baby boy born in America has nearly a 5-percent chance in developing Autism!
And yet what was the focus in most of the media coverage? Check out some of these headlines:
Autism Rises: More Children than Ever Have Autism, but Is the Increase Real? (Time)
Autism rates up; screening, better diagnosis cited (BusinessWeek)
More autism reported; likely from better testing (AP)
Do you see a trend here? If you look at the majority of the media coverage regarding the CDC announcement, nearly all of it tried to deliver the same message we’ve been hearing the past few years: “Yes, the numbers seem to be higher but it’s only because parents and doctors are so much better at identifying it now.”
Are you kidding me? We’re going to simply explain this epidemic by saying basically that we’ve always had large percentages of kids on the spectrum but we just never identified them as such before? And while many of us will concede that some percentage of the increase can be attributed to better diagnosis – Roithmayr is willing to put it as high as 50 percent (although I’m not) – that would still leave an additional 50-percent increase with no obvious explanation.
And yet we have media outlets such as Time asking: “Is the increase real?” If you read that article, the author never once mentions the potential of environmental factors having a role in this huge increase. Not once!
Can you imagine if suddenly we saw a nearly doubling in the rate of cancer, heart attacks or diabetes over a 10-year period and it was explained away as simply “we’re just better at diagnosing them now?” No, that is impossible to imagine because any professional who tried to use such logic would be immediately discredited.
Why is this being allowed now with autism? Why is a disproportionate amount of funding continuing to go into researching potential genetic causes of autism instead of environmental triggers? Why has the media accepted the spoon-fed analysis provided by the government that its simply better diagnosis that’s behind the increase in autism? I can’t say I have the answers – I wish to hell that I did so I could better understand why it is that I (and many other parents) find ourselves with twin children – one who is on the spectrum and the other that isn’t.
It galls me to read this lead paragraph from Time:
“Autism rates continue to rise, according to a new government survey, but the skyrocketing figures don’t necessarily mean the disorder is increasing.”
All I know is that nearly everyone I know is impacted in some way by autism. They have a nephew, grandchild, neighbor or child in their neighborhood who is obviously on the autism spectrum. This simply was not the case 10 or 20 years ago. And yes, some of this might be attributed to now using autism as a broader labeling system for what might have previously been simply considered “odd” behavior, but it doesn’t explain the explosion in prevalence.
I agree with Autism Speaks and Roithmayr when they say, “At 1 in 88, let me be clear, the United States is experiencing an autism epidemic. This is a national emergency. We need a national strategy.”
For more on the new autism prevalence numbers released by the CDC, visit the Autism Speaks prevalence page.
David Kaufer is a fun-loving Super Dad of 6-year-old twin sons, an insane Oregon Ducks fanatic (follow him on Twitter @DavidKaufer), advocate for green/sustainability and autism issues, and connoisseur of Northwest microbrews. He and his wife Renee moved to Edmonds in 2005 to raise their family (and enjoy the gorgeous views).