The latest stunning autism numbers have officials scrambling for some sort of explanation to allay the growing fear out there that something really bad is happening to our kids. All the major newspapers and networks are working hard to downplay the one in 88/one in 54 bombshell. I’ve been looking at endless stories and it’s incredible to watch TV broadcasters smiling as they once again attribute the numbers to better diagnosing and a broader definition of the disorder.
I was especially interested in the story that CNN put out. In “Searching for the why behind rising autism rate,” by Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, New York Presbyterian Hospital, we’re given some information that’s really hard to swallow and it shows just how desperate officials are getting in their attempts to make the autism epidemic go away.
Lord wrote, “Does the new figure indicate that we are seeing an epidemic of autism, as some have speculated?
“At this point, it's not clear.
“One possibility is that we are seeing the result of better detection rather than a real surge in autism.”
Lord was skeptical about the new numbers because of the disparity in the rates from around the country. What does this mean? Are some places just better at better diagnosing?
Lord: “If the rates are really increasing, does it mean that many more children, particularly those from ethnic or racial minorities who are often missed, could have autism and we just don't know yet? If we do a better job of identifying children with autism, the rate will certainly continue to increase. How do we address this issue, which is not unique to autism?” It sounds like her goal is simply to find all the autism everywhere without asking what’s causing it.
Back in February, I wrote this story about Catherine Lord and the changes to the DSM definition of autism that she’s been working on.
At a time when experts are no closer to finding the cause of autism than they were 20 years, redefining the disorder threatens to disqualify a lot of kids from receiving needed treatment.
Now Dr. Catherine Lord, one of the experts working on the DSM changes, hopes that won't happen. She was on CBS News on Jan 25 saying, "Families are very, very concerned that their kids are going to lose their diagnosis. It's really important to reassure people that there's no intention that that will happen. ...The intention of the new criteria is to better describe children--and adults--who have autism, Aspergers Syndrome, PDD-NOS, ... We don't want criteria that diagnose everyone as having autism. We want to do a better job of diagnosing the people who do. We're not trying to exclude anyone."
In her recent CNN story, Lord claimed that the new rate may be just better diagnosing and she wants to identify even more undetected kids with autism at the same time she’s working to limit the definition that will cut out lots of kids with milder symptoms. It’s really hard to understand how any of this makes any sense.
Lord included Dr. Thomas Insel, head of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee created by Congress to deal with autism, in her article:
Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, commented that the most useful approach right now is to assume that there is an increase in autism and try to figure out why this is happening. Since we know the disorder is a neurobiological condition, could it be caused by environmental factors? Many researchers are trying to find out.
I’m baffled by Insel’s question, “Could it be caused by environmental factors?” Two years ago, Insel lectured on autism at MIT and he was adamant, "I said before this isn't just genetics... There have to be environmental factors. We have barely been able to scratch the surface."
"There are something like 80,000 potential toxicants."
That was in 2010 and back then he stressed that there had to be environmental triggers. Suddenly now he’s talking like he just came up with the idea.
At the end of her piece, Lord wrote, “Regardless of all the unanswered questions, we should keep in mind that autism is a common condition. More children need autism services than ever before. We need cost-effective ways to identify the disorder at early ages, provide adequate support and work with affected families to help “
How does this fit with her efforts to redefine autism so narrowly that thousands of children lose vital services?
Lord claims it could be "better detection rather than a real surge in autism." It’s the same thing we’re being told everywhere in the news.
Officials and the media must be hoping that the public has a very short memory.
In 2004, the autism rate reached one in 166 and it was "better diagnosing."
In 2007, it became one in 150 children, still because of "better diagnosing."
In 2009, it soared to one in every 110 children all because of "better diagnosing."
Now it's 2012 and the rate is one in 88, one in 54 and we're still being told not to worry because there's even more "better diagnosing."
It's clear that no one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cares what's happening to our children. On Thurs., March 29, 2012, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden announced the newrate of one in 88/one in 54 boys, not at a well-publicized official press conference covered by masses of national news people, but with a hastily announced conference call. Frieden couldn't even take the time to publicly face the cameras and advise the country of yet another jaw-dropping autism increase for which he has absolutely no explanation.
Why bother giving us the updates if they don’t mean anything? How much of our money is spent on coming up with statistics that no one takes seriously? I’m sure that when next we hear that it’s one in 50 or one in 25, Frieden, Insel, and Lord will be right there professing their continued ignorance with absolutely no alarm over the numbers.
Why should we listen to the people who’ve presided over the loss of a generation of children to autism and done nothing to stop it? Why should we believe anything from experts and officials who can't even give us an estimate of a date when they might actually know something for sure about autism (except that their ever-expanding vaccine schedule isn't responsible)? How long will the agency that gets billions to run health care be allowed to cover up the worst health care disaster in our history?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism