Is it an Epidemic or Not?

4 Apr


If you really and truly want to know whether or not autism is an epidemic, don't read this article. But if you want to read it, go ahead. But don't blame me if you come away confused and angry.


Basically, a researcher says that he found that an increased classification of autism was matched by a decreased number of students classified as mentally retarded and learning disabled. This was true for every state except California, where there was an apparent rise independent of the other classifications.


But he also says that prevalence might actually be higher than what is indicated by special ed. statistics.


Actually, the Shattuck study does support one thing that I've known for quite some time. Basically that special education statistics are not a good indicator of anything. As pointed out in the Seattle Times article, autism wasn't even counted as a disability at the federal level prior to the 1992 IDEA reauthorization. Not all states use the same diagnostic guidelines and even within districts it can vary.


Case in point: In the state of Georgia, students with any developmental delay has a diagnosis of SDD until they are 7. SDD = Significant Developmental Delay. In Magnolia County, there were precious few students who came through the eligibility process with the "Autism" eligibility. A medical diagnosis and an educational eligibility are entirely different and one is not necessarily related to the other. Just because the child's neurologist diagnoses your child on the autistic spectrum does not mean the school automatically makes "autism" their eligibility.


When our oldest, Thomas, went through last year, he did end up with the autism eligibility by virtue of not fitting anywhere else. But the neurology report was never a real deciding factor. He wasn't behind academically. In fact he was ahead. It was the behavioral/social issues that got him there.


Read the CDC website to learn how they get their prevalence data, which apparently is from more than one source. It is this data that is going to drive public policy decisions.

There are a couple of other recent studies done on this topic, accessed by Pub Med, which you can read the abstracts of here and here.


I remember my own doctor asking me about this supposed epidemic. "Do you really think it is growing like some people say, or is it a matter of better detection or is MR and LD now being called something else?"


I think it is all of the above. I do know of several high school students diagnosed MR who probably would be more accurately diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. I have seen a number of adults get diagnosed with aspergers as adults. But I've also seen autism hit families like ours at an increased rate. While we may all be on the spectrum somewhere, the prevalence of kids with developmental delays has been on the rise. No one even knew what autism was 10 or 15 years ago. I didn't. I had classmates who were in special education. But autism was seen as very, very rare. But look around. Everyone knows someone who has autism. It simply is not the rarity and oddity it once was.


Parents will not be very receptive to this article/study, and with good reason. It seems like no matter what parents do or say, someone out there is going to come 'round and tell us all that we're crazy.

A couple of other blogs with a decidedly different take (and stake) on this topic:

Autism Diva

Joseph's Autism Blog

A Safe Minds Response to the Article


Dr. Shattuck Response to the criticism 

ASA Responds to the Shattuck study 

(Actually, all of these originated in some form from Diva's blog)




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