Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is It An Epidemic Yet?

With a prevalence of 1 in 50 kids, can there be any doubt?

A National Health Statistic Report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the number of children with autism is now estimated to be 1 in 50. In other words, 2% of American children now have autism.  Yet there seems to be no alarm—and the “it’s just better diagnosis” crowd comes out of the woodwork to pat the medical establishment on the back. 

Better diagnosis cannot account for the exponential rise in autism. Children born in 1994 had a 1 in 150 chance of having autism; children born just six years later, in 2000, had a 1 in 88 chance.  If this was cancer we were talking about, you’d better believe a national crisis would be declared and resources dedicated. As it is, autism is more prevalent than pediatric cancers, juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis and pediatric AIDS combined, yet receives less than 5% of the research investment of less common childhood illnesses. 

Critics of the study say it was flawed.  The 1 in 50 number comes from a national phone survey of more than 95,000 parents in 2011 and 2012.  Less than a quarter of those contacted agreed to participate, and according to the CDC it is likely those with autistic kids were more likely to participate in a survey on children’s health.

There may be some truth to that, but it’s not like the study released last year by the CDC was without its own faults.  The 1 in 88 figure was released by the CDC on March 30, 2012. This figure was based on children who were born in the year 2000 who were eight years old when the data was collected across 14 monitoring sites across the United States.  So you see, this data was already dated, if you’ll pardon the alliteration and it’s not really representative of the entire country. The figures varied widely from a high of 1 in 47 in Utah, to 1 in 210 in Alabama. 
ADDM Monitoring sites in blue...CA, NY and other high population states not included.

 Consider the total population study conducted in South Korea published in 2011.  This study was conducted by the Yale Child Study Center and found 1 in 38 children, or 2.64% of children have autism.  While a sampling study can produce accurate and meaningful data, I am more persuaded by the results of a total population study.

With 1 in 38 South Korean children affected by autism, I don’t find 1 in 50 American children hard to swallow.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure is actually higher. 

What surprises me, however, is the lackadaisical response to what should be a shocking figure.  Two percent of American children have autism and instead of a strategic national response coupled with research to really, really find out what is causing this scourge has not materialized.  Instead we see study after study that tries to correlate anything and everything to autism.  Last week it was having an old grandfather.  Last year it was old fathers, fat mothers, engineers marrying engineers and a bunch of other hooey.  
Old, fat engineers with old grandfathers are to blame!

I’ve even heard autism described as a natural evolution by those ignorant sorts who believe all autistics are savants or geniuses.
Autism as evolution...
Every day hundreds of children across the country will receive an autism diagnosis.  They can’t wait and neither can their families.

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