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By Anne Dachel
One way to make the whole controversy surrounding vaccines and autism go away would be to make the autism epidemic go away and that’s what the Los Angeles Times is trying to do in their series, Discovering autism: Unraveling an epidemic.
"Autism rates have increased twentyfold in a generation, stirring parents' deepest fears and prompting a search for answers. But what if the upsurge is not what it appears to be?"
In part one of the series, reporter Alan Zarembo presented a number of children who've received an autism diagnosis as proof that the explosion in autism is not what it appears be. He gave us experts like anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker and psychiatrist Allen Frances who see no real increase in autism, only an 'epidemic of discovery.'
The issue of environmental triggers was dismissed with a couple of sentences:
"The search for an environmental explanation for the rise has so far been fruitless."
"Researchers looking for environmental causes of the autism boom keep stumbling across other explanations.
"Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist at UC Davis, suspects that environmental triggers such as exposure to chemicals during pregnancy play a role. In a 2009 study, she started with a tantalizing lead — several autism clusters, mostly in Southern California, that her team had identified from disability and birth records.
"But the hot spots could not be linked to chemical plants, waste dumps or any other obvious environmental hazards. Instead, the cases were concentrated in places where parents were highly educated and had easy access to treatment."
The heated controversy over vaccines and autism is totally ignored. Instead, we were presented with lots of evidence that the exponential increase in autism is due to greater awareness, a push for a diagnosis by parents desperate for services and doctors willing to accommodate them.
Zarembo gave us examples of children with abnormal behaviors that now fall under the autism label and he explained how over-diagnosing and reclassification can account for the increase.
"A driving factor is that parents, physicians and educators have become intent on identifying it as early as age 2, in the hopes of diminishing its symptoms through treatments that are now widely available.
"On the severe end are children who in the past might have been considered mentally retarded, schizophrenic or even psychotic."
"Growth in milder cases accelerated after the 1994 edition of the psychiatric manual added a new diagnosis to the spectrum: Asperger's disorder, for children with autistic behaviors but no speech problems or intellectual deficits.
"Duke University's Frances, leader of the scientific panel that created that edition, said the change unintentionally opened a floodgate.
“'People started seeing it whenever a kid does something the slightest bit strange or starts collecting too many baseball cards,' he said.
"The definition is set to change again when the next edition of the manual is published in 2013, with the aim of greater consistency in diagnosis."
Zarembo will be continuing the series with three more parts, all designed to convince us that having thousands of neurologically disabled children is nothing to worry about. This is very timely coverage because frightening autism numbers are being reported everywhere.
The Salt Lake City Tribune announced that their autism rate is one in every 70 children, one in every 49 when looking at just boys.
Last January the New York Times reported, “The number of New Jersey students classified as having autism has grown rapidly… to 13,358 in 2010 from 8,490 in 2006, according to state education statistics.”
None of this really matters according to Zarembo. With an ever-changing definition of autism and more awareness we should expect to find more kids with problems in behavior.
I can see a couple of ways for this information to be used. For one thing, if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ever gets around to updating the autism rate, it won’t matter if it’s dramatically increased to one in every 50 or one in every 40 children. (The one in 110 rate used in this piece is from studies of eight years olds done back in 2006. Those kids are teenagers now. The agency that gets billions to run health care in the U.S. seems unable to tell us what the current rate is for eight year olds.)
This kind of reporting also backs up the claim that there’s no connection between the ever-expanding vaccine schedule and an epidemic increase in neurological problems among children. This report will come in handy for doctors hoping to ease parents’ fears over vaccine side effects.
What seems to matter most to Zarembo is the label autism. As long as children don’t come under this category of disability, there’s no problem. Personally I don’t care what you call it, as the embedded videos on this piece show, there are more and more kids out there who can’t communicate, can’t behave, and can’t learn. How is it that so many children were missed years ago? What did we do with them in a crowded classroom?
And what about all the parents who report that their children were born healthy and were developing normally until around age two (coincidental to receiving vaccinations)? Suddenly they developed health problems like seizures and bowel disease. Many stopped talking and lost learned skills. Doctors are at a loss to explain this regression. Are we to just accept that bad things happen to kids?
No one can show us an adult population like them anywhere. I don’t mean quirky acting adults. I mean adults with the same signs of classic autism we see in so many of our children. Where are the head-banging, non-verbal sixty year olds in diapers? Where are the middle aged autistic adults who have a history that includes a dramatic loss of skills as toddlers that were never recovered?
It seems the media will stop at nothing to convince us that what we see happening right before our eyes isn’t what it seems. The real test of Zarembo’s theory is the future cost to society as all these disabled children become adults. Will the taxpayers be able to handle all the better diagnosing?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.