Simon Baron Cohen recently released a study in which he found that 1 in 64 Cambridgeshire children have autism. Any reasonable person would find such a result both astonishing and alarming. Has 1 in 64 British children ever had the same horrible disorder at the same time? If one broke down these numbers for boys I imagine it would be something like 1 in 25 UK boys affected with autism.! And yet Baron Cohen insists that there is no need to be “alarmist” and that this catastrophic increase is due to “better awareness and detection.” Right.
In an interview with the British paper, “The Independent”, Baron Cohen, “dismissed suggestions that changes in lifestyle or environment were behind the rise. They put it down to improved awareness, and the inclusion of milder conditions.” I know- it IS preposterous.
It gets even more absurd. Baron Cohen argues that “undiagnosed cases are likely to be at the mild end of the spectrum.” Based upon what? I lived in Cambridge for a year and experienced the National Health System firsthand. After I broke the index finger on my right hand (yes I am right handed) I was given an appointment to see a doctor and get an x-ray in three weeks time. My finger was flopping around and any kind of movement caused terrible pain. I called back my GP’s office to plead for an earlier appt and was told that this is the way the system works and I have to wait my turn. That is just the way it is in the UK.
So if I understand this correctly, Baron Cohen believes that all these undiagnosed cases of autism are probably high functioning kids with minor impairments and no need for “labels.”
Cohen goes on to argue that, “the autism label may raise anxieties and be intrusive rather than helpful.” What planet is this guy on? First of all the NHS is positively notorious for its endless waiting lists. In fact, the National Autism Society UK states, “parents often wait years for an accurate diagnosis.” That’s right-YEARS. I got off easy with a 3 week wait for an x-ray! Now for the second part. Is this 1965 or what? Why does Cohen imply that children with ASD should not be diagnosed due to fear of the stigma. Aren’t we over this nonsense that an autism diagnosis = shame. Believe me, the diagnosis is the LEAST of Christian’s problems. Even in the instances in which autism is mild, children NEED a diagnosis to get services. When was the last time you heard of a child’s health destroyed and his family bankrupted because of a totally false autism diagnosis? Isn’t it far, far, far more likely that children who need early intervention and diagnostic services are pining away on eternal waiting lists?
Any rational adult would see these numbers and think, my God, there was no autism when I was a kid, what is happening that is causing this explosion of autism cases? I mean it isn’t even 1 in 150 as in the U.S., we’re talking 1 in 64! How frightening is that? However, according to Cohen you would be wrong to panic. He says, “We shouldn’t be alarmist…” What? Rather than explore the painfully obvious environmental factors triggering this autism epidemic Cohen argues that the exponential rise is due to (get ready for it…) better detection and greater awareness. That and nerds on planes I suppose.
Isn’t it time that the traditionalists within the autism community wake up to reality? Or do they prefer their glacial approach until 1 in 10, or 1 in 5, or 1 in 2 British children are autistic? We cannot wait for all the Baron-Cohens in the field to finally get with the program. It is time for new scientists, new ideas and an actual sense of urgency towards investigating the environmental triggers causing this epidemic- both in the UK and here in the US.
Katie Wright has two young boys. Her oldest son, Christian, is severely affected by autism. He developed normally; smiling, talking, walking; only to lose every skill and every word by the age of 2 and a half. Upon the advice of medical professionals Katie and her husband were advised to pursue only high quality behavioral therapy, speech and OT for Christian. It had no meaningful impact on Christian until his parents sought help from DAN! doctors who treated the underlying causes of Christian's descent into autism. Christian has improved but still has far to go. He has Inflammatory Bowel Disease, the measles virus in his gut and an immune system akin to a late stage AIDS patient. Christian does not have a psychiatric disorder. Before autism, Katie Wright was the Clinical Director of Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Stamford Connecticut. Katie is proud to serve on the Boards of NAA and SafeMinds.