Increased Autism Rates: What It Really Means, And What It Should Mean

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According to the National Institutes of Health's Parental survey, US estimates for Autism has now gone up to 1 in 100 based on a survey of 100,000 random households.  This is up from the estimated 1 in 150 that was based on surveys done in 2002.  People are panicking because of this news, because Autism seems to have had a massive surge in the past 7 years.  Organizations are calling for answers, quacks are touting their calls of everything from MSG to vaccines as the cause and they were right all along, and the belief in a massive Government conspiracy as a cover-up for increasing Autism rates has become almost religious in it's following. 

What I first want to outline is that the survey started with a specific question, "Has a doctor or Health Professional ever told you that your child has autism?"  From this question the statistics were generated, identifying the health care needs of children with autism versus neurotypical children among other statistical information.  The survey doesn't rely on data from health professionals on diagnosis rates, but rather the parents themselves.

Now, I don't want to suggest that the parents were anything but honest and forthcoming.  No one I know of would joke about having an autistic child when they don't.  But I know a lot of people in general that are paranoid and seem to see Autism where ever they look (I'm aware that's anecdotal evidence, but it's enough for me to view statistical information skeptically until additional evidence backs up the claim).  I would also like to point out that diagnoses tend to spike when public awareness is focused on a condition, like those for ADHD and food allergies.  It's not that they are wrong, but they do tend to come in waves.  For this reason, without doctors and psychologists being surveyed for diagnosis rates for comparison, I would take the actual rate numbers with a grain of salt.

That being said, I fully believe that the attention is nothing but positive for the Autism community!  Now people are looking at Autism with a more serious attitude, and perhaps Legislators and other government officials will start to take notice.  Perhaps now healthcare providers will look to Autism as a condition that needs treatment and coverage. 

What this survey should mean is this:  Autism needs to be understood, and those with Autism need to be assisted now.  There is no waiting, there is no ho-humming that can be tolerated from policy-makers, because we are looking at a significant and growing population of special needs that require help.  The Healthcare debate has yet to include Autism, which honestly needs to be addressed.  Public healthcare or no, Autism needs to be part of the equation in some form (if only coverage for the diagnosis).  Perhaps this will be the wake-up call needed for Legislators at both the State and National level to take Autism seriously.