By Kim Stagliano
Dr. Nancy Minshew says that in the "old days" autistic people were called schizophrenic, because the two conditions are so much alike. Today they are called autistic. Et voila! There's your epidemic!
Does your child, or do you (if you are an adult with autism) appear schizophrenic*? Has any doctor or therapist ever uttered the words schizophrenia and autism in the same sentence to you?
This declaration of Dr. Minshew's is repulsive and offensive to all people with autism. All people with autism, regardless of what you think of cause or treatment.
Here is the definition of childhood schizophrenia from www.schizophrenia.com:
A child's stage of development must be taken into account when considering a diagnosis of mental illness. Behaviors that are normal at one age, may not be at another. Rarely, a normal young child may report strange experiences—such as hearing voices—that would be considered abnormal at a later age. Clinicians look for a more persistent pattern of such behaviors. Parents may have reason for concern if a child of 7 years or older often hears voices saying derogatory things about him or her, or voices conversing with one another, talks to himself or herself, stares at scary things—snakes, spiders, shadows—that aren't really there, and shows no interest in friendships. Such behaviors could be signs of schizophrenia, a chronic and disabling form of mental illness.
Fortunately, schizophrenia is rare in children, affecting only about 1 in 40,000, compared to 1 in 100 in adults. The average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. Ranking among the top 10 causes of disability in developed countries worldwide, schizophrenia, at any age, exacts a heavy toll on patients and their families. Children with schizophrenia experience difficulty in managing everyday life. They share with their adult counterparts hallucinations, delusions, social withdrawal, flattened emotions, increased risk of suicide and loss of social and personal care skills. They may also share some symptoms with—and be mistaken for—children who suffer from autism or other pervasive developmental disabilities, which affect about 1 in 500 children. Although they tend to be harder to treat and have a worse prognosis than adult-onset schizophrenia patients, researchers are finding that many children with schizophrenia can be helped by the new generation of anti-psychotic medications.
Do I have this right? (I'm no Mark Blaxill when it comes to analyzing data.) Dr. Minshew says that today's skyrocketing counts of children with autism (now at 1 in 150) can in part, be attributed to the fact that what is today being called autism, in the past may have been called schizophrenia. But if schizophrenia rates are 1 in 40,000 for children, even if half of the cases were now called autism, you wouldn't be anywhere near today's autism rate. So what were the rest of the kids that now account for the numbers: Diabetic? Apoplectic? (No, that would be me.) And if children with schizophrenia are sometimes misdiagnosed with autism or PDD's, does that mean we now have thousands of kids with schizophrenia falsely diagnosed as autistic? A "wrong diagnosis" doesn't bode well for the whole "better diagnosis" theory then does it?
I have never, in my combined 31 years' of autism experience with my daughters, had a doctor even broach the subject of schizophrenia and we've seen some of the "best" (insert retching sound here.)
From Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew": "There's small choice in rotten apples." I guess old William knew about the likes of Dr. Minshew and company too. Here are her pathetic words:
And when people say they don't remember seeing so many autistic children when they were growing up, or ask where all the adults with autism are, there are two possible explanations, Dr. Minshew said.
One is that many autistic children in the past were never sent to school. In what she called the "Forrest Gump era, you didn't even go to school, or you went to a totally separate school."
The other phenomenon was that some autistic children were labeled as schizophrenic, and many may have ended up in state hospitals or other institutions, she said.
There is even a kind of logic to that, Dr. Minshew said, because some of the hallmarks of schizophrenia -- behaving oddly, a lack of facial expressions, poor eye contact, speaking in a monotone and using fewer gestures than normal -- are "essentially the same" in both autism and schizophrenia.
Here's the full article if you're crazy enough to read it.
* If you have a loved one with schizophrenia, I am in no way making light of their condition, nor am I implying that having schizophrenia is "worse" than having autism, or vice versa. My heart goes out to you. Kim
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism.