Autism Epidemic Talk Part II

25 Jan

Some more rumblings on the wider web regarding the autism ‘epidemic’ – I’m not allowed to carry on commenting at Harold’s (he allowed me one then when I further backed up my points he refused to allow those comments through. Amazing behaviour from someone who _invited_ me to take part in a dialogue!)

Take a closer look – always take a closer look – and what do we see from those convinced there is such a thing as an autism epidemic. We see opinion and we see personal anecdote. Much of it self fulfilling nonsense along the lines ‘before my Billy was diagnosed I didn’t know any autistic kids, now theres 20 just in his class!!!!’ or the classic ‘I asked my teacher/doctor/social worker/whatever and they said they’d never SEEN so many autistic people!’ Well…d’uh…of course not. Better diagnosis, increased ascertainment, more centres for diagnosis, more cultural awareness etc etc etc will lead to more people with a diagnosis. As would a real increase.

The bottom line for me is this: nobody knows if there’s a real autism ‘epidemic’ or not. Not in the strict epidemiological manner the word is used in. Why? Because really, despite all our bombast we (the entire autism and autistic community) know jack shit about autism from a perspective of how many autistic people thre are and what may cause fluctuations.

Take this story I found today which argues very persuasively that girls are not fully accounted for in autism epidemiology. Imagine that we take this too literally and hypothesise that autism is equally prevalent amongst girls as it is boys. The rate in the UK would shoot up to between 1.5 and 2% of the entire population. Would that have been a real increase? Of course not.

Beware of those people who will tell you with certainty that there is an autism epidemic. The truth is that there is no conclusive science either way. Until it is done *no one knows* .

7 Responses to “Autism Epidemic Talk Part II”

  1. Sullivan January 25, 2010 at 14:56 #


    you are very right–we don’t know precisely what is going on. We do know that there are some “non epidemic” causes that have raised the reported autism rates.

    Unless we understand these artifacts in the data, we will never be able to say if there is a real increase in the number of autistic people.

    The epidemiologists are not the enemy to those promoting the “epidemic” language. Completely the opposite. If all we do is follow the CDC data or the educational data or the like, we will never know.

  2. Socrates January 25, 2010 at 16:55 #

    Well, the Cambridgeshire school study from last year said it had estimated/guestimated a rate of 1.6% and suggested planning school services for a rate of up to 2%…

    Looking outside my Cambridgeshire window I can see little sign of the Crisis the Yanks are expecting when their rate climbs to this level.

    But we’re British. And we won’t let something like Business As Usual distract us for the important business of Tea Drinking.

  3. livsparents January 25, 2010 at 19:32 #

    My favorite form of logic, especially practiced by the likes of Dan Olmstead, is that because we cannot quantitatively explain the entire increase of autism rates, therefore the entire rate of increase is unexplainable and that it follows that they are now free to explain and rationalize the entire rate of increase any way they see fit.

  4. Laurentius Rex January 25, 2010 at 20:55 #

    “The truth is that there is no conclusive science either way. Until it is done no one knows”

    No one will ever know either, the field will lie fallow, and beneath it’s furrows weapons of mass destruction may or may not lurk.

    By the time the research has been done, autism will have become something else yet again, as inexorably as Swine flu becomes yesterday’s news.

  5. Socrates January 25, 2010 at 21:18 #

    Once upon a time Social Anxiety Disorder was lined up to be the next Big Thing. I went to a seminar at St Andrew’s all about it. It was organised by a drug company pushing Cipramil as a solution… Although it now seems to have dropped of the radar, somewhat.

    Professor Baron Cohen et chums said “Clinical Judgement continues to play an important role in determining and interpreting the level of impairment an individual has, to warrant a clinical diagnosis of autism-spectrum condition”

    So the CDC can stick their ADOS and ADI-R up their epidemiologists and the rest of us have enough wiggle room to declare the rate/prevalence just about anything we want.

    He also said “There is a need for a better instruments that identify the phenotypic differences and difficulties that are specific to girls”

    So obviously we’re looking a another hike in the numbers, just as soon as an obsessive interest in Jane Austin novels is pathologised.


  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Autism Epidemic Talk Part II « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - January 26, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev, Brandon Blietz and autism_hub, Autism Hub. Autism Hub said: New post: Autism Epidemic Talk Part II […]

  2. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - Autism Epidemic Talk Part II « Left Brain/Right Brain -- - January 27, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rory Patton, Amalia Starr. Amalia Starr said: RT @springingtiger: Autism Epidemic Talk Part II (left/right brain good comment thread) #autism […]

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