Wednesday, 6 May 2009

There is no autism epidemic

While JABS is a little short on lunacy at the moment - maybe that moderation is having an effect - I thought I'd post this link.

It's something I've argued for a long time (in person, not on this blog, so don't bother looking for it) - that the "autism epidemic" is mainly due to children who were diagnosed (or dismissed) in the 1970s and 1980s as being "slow", "retarded", or "special" are these days referred to as "autistic". It really is a difference in diagnostic criteria.

When I was at school, there were three boys in my classes who (and please - I'm not a physician, clinician, or any other kind of medical professional - this is an opinion) today would more than likely have been diagnosed as "autistic". Then, they were "difficult", "retarded", or just "weird". The descriptions that follow are purely from memory, from primary (2) and secondary (1) school. They're not intended to be insulting, nor are they intended to be clinical diagnoses.

One boy sat rocking in his chair all day, dribbling, hardly able to speak in coherent sentences, while being able to finish maths tests quicker than anyone else in the school.

Another boy was also able to perform the hardest maths problems set him (at age 9), but was unable to write a simple word (say "cat", or "and"), and had a terrible fear of water. Consequently he came to school stinking, but would not be washed by his mother or by teachers - when they tried, he would get extremely violent, attacking teacher with whatever came to hand; scissors, chairs, tables etc.

A third boy had to be (at secondary school) led from class to class by a friend, otherwise he screamed the house down - but he scored good grades in all subjects except English, right the way through school. He just had no social skills - I once sat across the aisle from him in an exam, and watched him spend the whole exam feeding a long, sticky trail of snot from his nose directly into his mouth with the end of a fountain pen. For three hours. He never wrote a word.

Those are children who today would no doubt be labelled "autistic" - and would receive the help they needed and deserved. They'd also become statistics. The statistics that Jackie "Measles" Fletcher and John "Cock" Stone happily quote to show an autism "epidemic". It's not an epidemic - it's a change in diagnosis. It's symptomatic of a society that is far more keen to give someone a proper label, a society that is far less likely to simply discard children like those I've described above, a medical profession which now realises that labelling children as "retards" or "cretins" isn't acceptable.

However, that medical profession that is doing its best to atone for the sins of the past and is trying to help is now vilified by the anti-vaxers like Stone and Fletcher, and accused of all kinds of ills by the alt-med loons (Truthseeker, jennyr, Gus The Fuss) and conspiracy merchants (Minority View, Gus The Fuss (again)).

You all know you're wrong, that there is no "autism epidemic", that the intoduction of MMR hasn't pushed up autism rates, but you've invested so much of your life in pushing your point that you can't admit you're wrong.

I'm still offering an amnesty. Just be big enough to admit you're wrong, and spend your time looking after your children rather than putting all your efforts into apportioning blame (Gus, John and Jackie) - and I'll buy you a drink and shake your hand. How about it?


Sean said...

This is what I usually explain to concerned parents. The rise in autism diagnoses began prior to the introduction of the MMR, due to a change in diagnostic criteria, and basically continued the same curve after its introduction.

Of course, this or anything else won't convince the JABS folk, but, as the DSM so nicely puts it:

Delusion: A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary.

John H said...

Good post Becky.

There are so many medical and societal factors involved here that it is extremely difficult to parcel out cause.

Part of the issue is that nowadays everyone has to be a victim. You are a victim of substance abuse rather than a crackhead. You have some attention disorder rather then being a fractious little git.

With all topics like autism someone/thing HAS to be responsible for it. There has to be an external cause which it can be pinned on (accepting that maybe, for whatever reason, your genetic make-up is defective is impossible).

If there is a cause then there is the chance for compensation (which certainly worked for Wakefraud as he got extremely well compensated for his efforts).

I think we all knew the sort of fellow pupil you refer to. It is PC to say "he is 4 on the AS" rather than "he is a bit slow/retarded etc". In some senses being PC is a politeness which is beneficial to society but in others it probably masks a lot of developmental problems by lumping them all together and stopping people getting appropriate treatment.

Perish the thought that any jabbophobe should look deeper into the causality when it is glaringly obvious that the monkee pus did it.