Recently I was talking with a fellow mom, and the subject of vaccines came up. I explained that the supposed connection between vaccines and autism has no scientific basis, and the other mom asked, “Then how do you account for the increase in cases of autism?” (Not in a hostile way, just a question.)
Without hesitation, I replied that it’s because of the change in awareness and diagnosis.
I’d kind of like to ask the folks here if you think that’s the right answer, or what you would have responded. And also I’d like to tell you my (personal, anecdotal) reasons for my own response:
One of my children has been diagnosed as being on the “autism spectrum.” But the thing is that his personality quirks (or social problems) are exactly the same as those of several others in earlier generations of our family. The one person in the family who displays the most blatant, textbook example of “Asperger’s” symptoms was born in the early forties (right around the time the syndrome was first identified) — so obviously he wouldn’t have been diagnosed when he was a child.
I think it’s great that people know more today and can tailor educational programs to the particular needs of kids — unlike when I was a kid or when my parents were kids, and you just got to be labelled “the weird kid,” and good luck to you!
Another example is Dyslexia. A few generations ago, you would just have been labelled as slow or stupid, and too bad for you. Today, neurologists understand better the parts of the brain that are used in reading. If those parts underdeveloped, teachers can compensate by using additional sensory channels such as colors, tones, and spatial reasoning. This example has come up recently in my experience since I’ve been working on the software suite Dybuster — which takes advantage of this multi-sensory approach to treating Dyslexia:
It is my impression that the situation is similar for full-blown autism — kids had it but it just wasn’t recognized as such.
What do you think? Is that the complete explanation, or has autism actually been increasing in the population? (Note: I did google this question before posting, but the results seemed kind of ambiguous, so I thought I’d ask for other opinions.)