The onslaught has begun and we are very poorly prepared. The 1990 birth cohort turns twenty one this year. They are over four million strong in the US and we can expect 20,000 to 40,000 of them to have an autism spectrum disorder. 1990 was about the time incidence rates began to surge. CDC no longer reports classical autism separately from the higher functioning Asperger’s Syndrome but we can safely assume we are now adding large numbers of young men and women to our society who cannot manage without significant assistance. Many of them are living with families who are or soon will be no longer able to cope. They are increasingly spilling out into the public domain in serious need of institutional care; thousands this year, thousands more next year, and the next, and the next until we either find a cure or remove the cause.
We’ve wasted much of the twenty year warning we had. We pretended the increase wasn’t real, that it was simply a matter of better diagnostics, awareness, and change in definition. The children were there all along. We just didn’t notice them, or they were misdiagnosed. The kindergarten teachers noticed them though. They saw something beginning about 1995 they hadn’t seen before. It was hard to miss.
We tried to blame it on genes and poured millions into research looking for the culprit. But of course genetics can’t explain a pandemic. They may be able to tell us who is most at risk. They will never tell us what the cause is and unless gene therapy is the answer they are unlikely to give much insight into possible cures.
The great unanswered question, unasked really except by parents of affected children, has been where are the adults with autism? Well get ready. Here they come by the thousands. Over the coming decade there will be hundreds of thousands. We are going to end up with millions of these people among us.
So what are we doing about it? Shooting the messenger mostly. Andrew Wakefield, the British researcher who called for a serious inquiry into a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been hounded out of England by a professional and journalistic lynch mob. Jenny McCarthy is routinely ridiculed by the sneering class for using her celebrity status to publicly question vaccine safety. Bill Gates has been on a media campaign to promote third world vaccination programs and calls parents “child killers” for no greater sin than opting for alternative schedules. Parents have long grown accustomed to patronizing attitudes from neurologists, psychiatrists, gastroenterologists, pediatricians, and public health officials; everybody they have turned to for help. No treatment is worth pursuing, except maybe sedatives. No precaution is tolerable. No question is allowed. Nobody knows or cares what causes autism so long as it isn’t the vaccines. Why? Because if it is caused by an environmental insult or insults childhood and prenatal vaccines are the obvious place to look.
So here we are. We have already paid a horrible price and it is about to get worse; much worse. Last night I was watching one of those crime shows on TV. It wasn’t very good and I was about to turn it off when they began to profile the serial killer. They decided he had autism. I continued watching. The portrayal of autism was worse than irresponsible. I thought maybe the idle speculation about autism in the West Virginia shooting had shamed the media into being more careful. I guess not. Heavens knows when an adult with autism really will commit some heinous crime. When it happens we can’t count on many friends.
Where are the adults with autism? Don’t bother, they’re here.
Norm Roberts is a retired business analyst living in Plano, Texas. His 9 year old grandson has autism.