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Saturday, October 15, 2011

SYSK: Why has there been a rise in Autism?

The rise of autism: In 2001, the incidence of autism was thought to be one case for every 160 people, which even then was much higher than in previous decades. Today, the accepted incidence is more like one case for every 100 people. Though the increased incidence is as much a public health issue as an educational one, I’ve included the phenomenon on this list because the increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism has had a profound impact on schools. From an educational perspective, autism is a perfect storm–children with autism have expensive needs, but respond well to intervention. No one really knows how much treatment is appropriate according to the framework set by special education laws.

While it is certainly shocking and significant to parents and educators that autism rates are going up, what has been virtually ignored by the media are the reasons for the increase. Autism rates increase dramatically among older parents. A ten-year increase in maternal age, for example, increases the risk of autism by 38%. Unlike Down syndrome, both older fathers and older mothers have a higher risk. Therefore, one likely reason for the increase in autism is the fact that many parents are waiting longer before having kids.

Increasing rates of Autism are also due in part to how it is identified and diagnosed. Autism can now be detected and diagnosed much more accurately and sometimes earlier than in the past. Further, the definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder, which includes Asperger’s Syndrome, is broader and includes more patients than earlier definitions.

Lastly, perhaps an equally important autism story this decade is the overwhelming and compelling evidence that there is NO link between vaccines and autism. Children’s vaccines are no longer allowed to contain any mercury and even those vaccines that still do contain mercury as a preservative (e.g., influenza vaccines) contain too little to cause a neurological effect. Further, while the number of autism diagnoses was going up over the past ten years, the amount of mercury in vaccines was declining. What has fueled the anti-vaccine hysteria is the fact that autism typically manifests in children between the ages of one and two years, precisely when they are getting many of their vaccines. Thus, coincidentally, many autism diagnoses happen right after a child has been vaccinated, creating the impression of cause and effect.

From the blog Modern School, by Michael Dunn

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