The Autism Epidemic

Autism is often identified as an epidemic. This position is held by charities that depend upon this perception to fund their activities. Autism is framed by the (often) non-autistic people who run these organizations as a rampant and increasingly prevalent disease state that needs to be controlled, cured and eventually eradicated. In this view, autistic people are an unfortunate burden and the lives of all would be better if autism could be vanquished.

This point of view is typically not shared by those who are autistic, as you might imagine. They see autism not as an rapidly increasing disease, but as a normally occurring state, present in a relatively fixed percentage of the population. In this view, autism is more obvious, more diagnosed, more discussed, more exposed, but not, in real terms, growing any faster than the population at large.

This graphic looks at the reality behind the autism epidemic and not just the hype. Clarity on the epidemic issue can help us all focus on what is most important: to improve the lives of all.

[The infographic links to a PDF version that you may distribute unaltered without restriction.]

28 Comments on "The Autism Epidemic"


Guest
Deborah
August 17, 2015

Thanks for making the statistics insightful. My heart dropped half a foot however when reading the sentence: ‘This will be true for as long as humans don’t have a way to prevent these births from happening.’ It suggests that if it were possible, these births should be prevented from happening.

Member
August 17, 2015

Agreed….I felt the same way. I was going to share this article but this one statement made me reconsider.

Guest
Charlotte
August 17, 2015

Yep, same… Wanted to share it, but realised that I was going to have to excuse that sentence. Might do so anyway, but tbh, most folks who’d see it kinda know this stuff in any case. Makes my stomach churn that it’s even a thing that people might say.

I suppose on a really cold, rational level (the sort that even I have to force), that sentence is factually – the only way to stop autism happening *is* stop autistic people being born. It’s just that that should never, ever be an option, or a consideration, and even putting it into words is really quite nasty as a concept. One of those moments where a fact is entirely unnecessary, and if someone really thought about what they were saying, it might not have happened. One can hope…

Member
August 17, 2015

A friend shared a post from an herbal/organic-type site that asked its readers what they thought was the cause of the the “autism epidemic.” The answers were many, most of them of the “GMO/vaccine/pesticide/bad food” variety, others blaming artificial sugars, mothers who ate or did the wrong things during pregnancy, etc., and the whole thing in general got my blood boiling. So forgive the length of this post, but I wanted to share with you the response I wrote there, because it has some application here as well:

“Here’s a question for all of you that will really boggle your minds, then: if it is because of the foods we eat, or something the mother did or ate, or some other external organic cause, why is it FAR MORE PREVALENT in boys? Not that girls can’t be autistic, I’m not saying that. At all. But boys are far more likely to be diagnosed. The only common factor there would be the fact that your sex is determined by your father. Should we start blaming the dads now? Are the girls living on a different planet than the boys? Eating different foods? Getting different medications? Seems unlikely. So what do we point our fingers at now then? Maybe we stop pointing. It does no good. Maybe we start trying to build a society that accepts and understands and supports these individuals and we let science do the figuring out. Maybe we build schools that don’t have elementary school autistics arrested for behaviors they can’t control—it happens, I’ve seen it—but instead are designed to help them overcome those behaviors. Maybe we don’t tell autism parents they just need to use more discipline when we haven’t spent a day in their shoes wrestling a child down to keep him from hurting himself or worn the bruises that come with being an autism parent. I’ve worn them, have you? Maybe we learn tolerance for the child making odd noises in the corner and compassion for his parents. But most of all, maybe we STOP POINTING FINGERS. No parent wants to feel like he or she is to blame for their child’s suffering, and that’s what you are all doing. Stop it. Have some respect for the people here who live this life and are doing the best we can by our kids.”

Member
August 17, 2015

Well said! Thank you!

Guest
romez
August 17, 2015

This is different talk in the Autism community, and ive learned alot! Thanks

Guest
Warren Peace
August 17, 2015

You can thank most of your innovation on the autistic traits. And you can thank celebrity chasing, rampant consumerism on neurotypical brains. It is an evolution for the better.

Anyway, you need to take a course in statical analysis.
1 in 88 is a ratio like a percentage. If autism was simply increasing because of population increase, the ratio would remain constant. 1 in 250 for a population of a 1000 is the same as 1 in 250 for a population of a million or a billion.
The percentage of autism per capita is increasing. 1 in 88 is more prevalent than 1 in 250 over any population.

Also, there are more charities because more people need help and the government support is inadequate. People are trying to help themselves. And yes, that mean money. To thin otherwise is naive.

Guest
Jen
August 18, 2015

I was just diagnosed with Autism. I was not in the numbers of people 5 years ago, or 10, and since I am 36 was not on the list of people with Autism when I was in the schools. I have never been able to live independently. But I could talk to teachers- just not most of my classmates. My shutdowns were to start silently crying and not understand myself what was wrong so not be able to tell the teacher who was kneeling beside my desk and who just by looking at me and talking quietly was making it worse. I was 35 before someone saw me have a shut down and who simply got me to a quieter place, stood behind me, put a hand lightly on one shoulder so I knew she was there, and waited. She had the knowledge that my teachers didn’t. And that those who work with my uncle didn’t. He should have been counted when he was a child. Every story my father and aunt tell about him, when you have the knowledge we now do, screams that. They describe what can only be meltdowns, obsessive hobbies, his avoidance of being around people. Events of the 5 years before we lost contact with him, which I did witness, also lead to that answer. Adult autistics can have wonderful marriages- but every item on his side that led to his divorce and to us losing track of him is a symptom. As are the problems his eldest son was having. Whether he was ever added to that ratio I don’t know. As more adults find that they have Autism the numbers should be changed for the years when we were alive but unrecognized.

I have a motor-neuron disease. It is a non-fatal ALS relative that my mother has and my grandfather had. Mom cannot sit up or roll over without Dad or I moving her. Her dad was like that. Most people with this genetic disorder don’t get much worse than I am now. Because it is a rare disease (30 people known to have it in my state) where we spend the research money becomes very important. In some states the MS group will help us with getting wheelchairs and other living needs. But what the Spastic Paraplegia Foundation decides to put it’s funding into is of vital importance, because if they put a lot into something that doesn’t pan out in humans it is wasted time and money. If they get to human trials and it harms, it is even worse. Not all charities for any condition are created equal. And a lot of money goes to things that would have been torture to me. I would rather have learned to make small talk in an online game, as I went from asking for help playing with the strangers in my team to offering help, because I looked up everything related and am good at rephrasing what I know endlessly until it is understood, to gradually joining conversations, to being a part of a 24/7 group FB chat that 12 of us wander in and out of, than have been forced to learn to act normal. The people I interact with accepted me before I was diagnosed, are glad to see me more as I do some of the tamer social gatherings and not just the learning ones or the work things, and when I falter and tell them I know I am not acting “interested,” but I am autistic and can only follow the things they are saying if I’m monitoring eye contact and facial expression and so on. What the SPF puts it’s money on will lead to a very different outcome for a boy I know who uses crutches, a wheelchair, and an assistance dog. How we treat ASD children will also. I can choose not to have a child- not because of ASD, but because I have more genetic conditions that can affect a baby than I have mentioned. I don’t know how fast the people who are working to fix the motor nerves will go, or what will happen with autoimmune research or how much I need to worry about the aunts who had breast cancer before the age of 50, and more. But just because this is not talking about my child doesn’t mean that, based on my experiences, I don’t worry that they will research the wrong therapy or neglect some idea that would help care for us. I consider my knowledge and my experiences to be only useful if I do consider the effects on others. Which means supporting some ideas whole-heartedly and wanting others stopped.

Guest
Kathy
August 18, 2015

Thank you for this infographic. Sharing and saving for future reference – I’m assuming it’s okay to share as it’s been posted on some public FB pages.

Guest
Catriona
August 18, 2015

I was recently at a seminar during which was presented a very interesting ‘snapshot’ of current research and funding priorities. One of the things that is going on in genetic research – massively funded – is not so much seeking the means of eradicating autism but in creating further markets for the pharmaceutical companies. The genetics science is becoming so sophisticated that what is beeing explored is medication to ‘switch off’ or ‘switch on’ genetic biofunctions. So, a child, for example, who has been identified as having the necessary genetic makeup to possibly be autistic, could be put on medication before the age of 3 (I am making this up as an example by the way) to make them ‘more normal’.

Guest
Nottyboy
August 18, 2015

How do you account for low functioning autism like Jamie’s:

Do you speak for them too?

Guest
Hal Eagar
August 18, 2015

While I appreciate your intended commentary “I just copied the previous chart” is both ridiculous and disingenuous. And unfortunately such a obviously dishonest behavior renders the whole chart meaningless, and degrades not only your own argument but anyone else who may be trying to convey the same information by honest means.

Your flippant behavior is the greatest threat to the very topic you seem to care about.

https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/autism-prevalence-unchanged-in-20-years/

Guest
Anonymous
August 19, 2015

Bit of deception in the graphs. One is obviously wrong. The percent of people diagnosed with autism has increased in first world countries during the past few decades. The increase is not due to population growth, it is an actual increase as a percent of population. The reason for that is being debated, ie is it due to doctors labelling more people as autisitc, or is it an actual percent increase. Once you put up that graph, the credibility of the presentation vanished for me. I am sure whoever did the graphs must know that which makes it disappointing that somebody would be so knowingly deceptive. It is hard enough to get up-to-date, accurate, scientific information on autism without having to deal with voodoo presentations like the one above. Anyway, just my thoughts. Good luck to you all. Craig.

Guest
Anonymous
August 21, 2015

Their is no such thing as a genetic epidemic.

Guest
liam
August 26, 2015

Hi Jim, I like this page a lot. I have an autistic daughter and it makes me smile inside to see light along the road. However, I did want to point out a logical fallacy above. The number of autistic people is NOT increasing in line with the population according to the CDC but at roughly double the number.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Much of this could be due to more advanced (and possibly more broad diagnostic tools, but not all.

Anyway, just wanted to put that out there.

Cheers

 
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