A recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has the shocking headline statistic; 1 in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder. What has changed, gone wrong, with the newest generation of Americans? Is it all about semantics? Has the definition of autism changed and now so broad as to capture behavior just a little outside the norm? Are there ubiquitous environmental factors making our kids crazy? Too much screen time? Fluorine in the water? CO2 vehicle emissions? Is it easier for doctors to tell parents there is a disease rather than talk about bad parenting?
The CDC report has become the focal point for those are skeptical about the diagnoses of autism that are twice as common at this time as they were just five years ago. Is autism the new ADHD? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was all the rage in the 90s. The list of symptoms by which autistic behavior is defined was greatly increased in the 90s. Not just the obviously severely challenged children were now diagnosed as autistic.
These children are intellectually deficient, unable to communicate verbally or perhaps incapable of keeping themselves safe. The new autism criteria share a basic inability to function socially. The new diagnostics mean that the autistic population is a lot bigger and very different to what it was even five years ago.
The director of research at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism, argues that a broader definition that includes people with ‘milder’ symptoms is appropriate, because any social impairment is a genuine and difficult problem in the modern world. Difficulty’s fitting in at work or marital problems stemming from behavioral factors are shaky foundations for a whole life.
[box type=”note”]Other professionals argue that the definition is too broad and those overseeing the latest version of criteria for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are proposing editing down the numbers of combinations of behavioral traits from an incredible 2000 plus to just 11. [/box]
There is no physical test for autism even though researchers are convinced of a large genetic basis, with mutations creating children very different to their parents. However, there are hundreds of thousands of genetic combinations that could go towards unique brain development, which is the crux of autism. The mapping and categorizing of these variations have only just begun.
The 1 in 88 diagnosed autistics are very similar in a few ways but also totally unique. Two sufferers can have the same genetic mutation but behave very differently because they are affected to a different degree. The problem for researchers is defining and categorizing these subsets.
Meanwhile, some parents of the 1 in 88 reject the idea that their child’s diagnosis is simply a reflection of the current trend to explain all human behavior in terms of nature more than nurture. They feel that behaviors such as an inability to keep quiet or uproar in the face of a minor routine change are profound conditions, even if they are not the classic symptoms of