We hear stories about the rise in autism and the autism epidemic all of the time.
Every few years, the CDC had been releasing a new report which showed a higher prevalence of autism in the United States, including:
- 1 in 150 children in 2000
- 1 in 150 children in 2002
- 1 in 125 children in 2004
- 1 in 110 children in 2006
- 1 in 88 children in 2008
- 1 in 68 children in 2010
- 1 in 68 children in 2012
Looking at those numbers, it is easy to see most people think that the rate of autism is rising.
And if the rate of autism is rising, then there must be a cause.
Thinking about it like that, it becomes easy to see why vaccines became the scapegoat for causing autism, especially after Andrew Wakefield told everyone that it “is my feeling, that the, the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR…”
The Myth of an Autism Epidemic
Many experts don’t think that there is an autism epidemic though.
“…the numbers of people born with autism aren’t necessarily increasing dramatically. It’s just that we’re getting better and better at counting them.”
There are several different explanations for the apparent rise in the number of children being diagnosed with autism, including:
- better recognition among health care providers
- better recognition among parents
- diagnostic substitution – children were once diagnosed with other conditions, such as mental retardation and learning disabilities
- broadening of the criteria used to diagnose autism, including changes in DSM criteria, which went from labeling children with autism as having childhood schizophrenia (1952) and including just three essential features of infantile autism (1980) to adding PDD-NOS (1987) and more subtypes and symptoms to the autism diagnosis category in DSM-IV (1994).
- social influences, including that more parents may have wanted to seek help when more resources become available and because they may have become more accepting of the possibility that their child had autism, leading them to seek a diagnosis and services. For example, before 1975 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, children with disabilities were excluded from school. And then in 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) included autism as a separate disability, making it a little easier to get services.
All together, these explanations help explain what has been confirmed by numerous studies, that the true prevalence of autism hasn’t changed over time.
What To Know About The Autism Epidemic Myth
There is no autism epidemic.
- There are adults and older people with autism. Did you know that the the first meeting of the National Society of Autistic Children was held in 1965?
- The idea that the ‘autism epidemic’ is a myth is not new – experts have been talking about it for over 10 years, which makes you wonder why some people still push the idea. An idea that hurts autistic families.
- A 2015 study concluded that “Changes in reporting practices can account for most (60%) of the increase in the observed prevalence of ASDs in children born from 1980 through 1991 in Denmark. Hence, the study supports the argument that the apparent increase in ASDs in recent years is in large part attributable to changes in reporting practices.”
- Autism is thought to be genetically based.
Some folks, especially those in the anti-vaccine movement, don’t want to believe that there is no autism epidemic though.
“If there is no autism epidemic, if there is a “stable incidence” of autism over recent decades, then this alone is powerful evidence against the vaccine hypothesis – and in fact removes the primary piece of evidence for a vaccine-autism connection.”
Steven Novella on The Increase in Autism Diagnoses: Two Hypotheses
After all, if there is no autism epidemic, then they can’t blame vaccines for be causing an autism epidemic…
More About the Autism Epidemic Myth
- CDC estimates 1 in 68 school-aged children have autism; no change from previous estimate
- Autism Prevalence Is Now At 1 In 50 Children
- Another reminder that there is no autism epidemic
- The Alleged Autism Epidemic
- Autism prevalence: Now estimated to be one in 88, and the antivaccine movement goes wild
- Majority Of Autism Increase Due To Diagnostic Changes, Finds New Study
- If you are using California data to claim an autism epidemic, you’re doing it wrong. Or:The great anti-epidemic of intellectual disability in California.
- What causes autism?
- Autism Epidemic? Not in the NSCH data
- There can’t be a genetic epidemic?
- What caused the increase in autism rate? Not vaccines
- Autism – The Epidemic That Never Was
- LATimes on the autism “epidemic”: “more a surge in diagnosis than in disease”
- Evidence against an “autism epidemic”
- No, the autism “rate” in California did not go down after removing thimerosal from vaccines
- The Increase in Autism Diagnoses: Two Hypotheses
- How Common is Autism?
- Social influence and the autism epidemic
- Autism Prevalence Unchanged in 20 Years
- Where Are All The Older Autistic People? Scotland, For Example
- Scientists Implicate More Than 100 Genes In Causing Autism
- Vaccines and autism: A thorough review of the evidence
- Study – Explaining the increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders: the proportion attributable to changes in reporting practices.
- Study – Autism and diagnostic substitution: evidence from a study of adults with a history of developmental language disorder.
- Study – Social influence and the autism epidemic.
- Study – The contribution of diagnostic substitution to the growing administrative prevalence of autism in US special education.
Last Updated on April 18, 2018 by Vincent Iannelli, MD