The Los Angeles Times has started a new series on autism. The opening piece is Autism boom: an epidemic of disease or of discovery? It’s a tough piece to write: how to discuss the fact that a big factor behind the rise in autism diagnoses is sociological (which is accurate and good to get out there) without fueling the “parents just want to milk the system” mindset (which is inaccurate and stigmatizing).
I wanted to write about the piece but, instead, a comment has caught my attention. Sue Basko who, by her comments, is rather ignorant about autism and the services/supports available, left the comment below:
Many parents today want a diagnosis of autism spectrum for their child, not only because there is a great deal of funding allocated for services for those children, as the news article explains, but also because this qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month. If a family can get a few kids diagnosed with such things, the family can live off the payments. This was caused because welfare payments are so low, welfare is so hard to get, and intact families with both parents present do not qualify for welfare.
The real story would be to check out what percentage of families with child with an autism diagnose are collecting SSI. That is where you will find the real secret behind this “epidemic.” Also, school districts that will receive extra funding for each child with autism will be far more likely to make such a diagnosis.
When I was a kid, there were kids who kept track of details, counted things, paid little attention to others, and seemed socially awkward. There were called future accountants.
I realize there are actual cases of autism, which seems to be a form of retardation. A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds, without regard for the fact it stigmatizes the children for life to have such a diagnosis.
Anyone who writes a scathing reply should reveal if their family is collecting SSI or if they or their school is in any way collecting funds based on autism.
In a recent comment on her Facebook page, she writes:
THIS MAy not be a big deal for others, but my blog got 800+ hits in the past 16 hours. It means so much to me that people read what I write.
Given this, I am bringing what she writes to a larger audience: the readership of Left Brain/Right Brain. In doing so I am breaking a good rule: don’t blog (or tweet) while angry.
I find it ironic, to say the least, that someone who is actively contributing to the stigma of autism is using this as part of her argument.
Somehow I have missed out on the cash cow that my kid presents to me. I am not able to “live off the payments” that are offered. Heck, I’ve never even been offered SSI (Social Security’s “supplemental Security Income”).
Ms. Basko would be well advised to re-read the article she commented upon. Here’s one segment I would highlight:
Analyzing state data, he identified a 386-square-mile area centered in West Hollywood that consistently produced three times as many autism cases as would be expected from birth rates.
Affluence helped set the area apart. But delving deeper, Bearman detected a more surprising pattern that existed across the state: Rich or poor, children living near somebody with autism were more likely to have the diagnosis themselves.
The rise in autism diagnoses in California has occurred in wealthy areas (for example, West Hollywood), urban areas, and less so in racial/ethnic minorities and people in rural areas. Hispanic immigrants, legal or not, have actually avoided seeking out services due to Proposition 187.