By Anne Dachel
Fourteen years ago, when I was in the early stages of my coverage of autism in the news, I wrote a piece that was published on Scoop.co.nz entitled, The Really Big Lie About Autism.
This article referred to the universally promoted idea that all the kids with autism everywhere were really nothing new. They’ve always been here; they were called something else or their condition went unrecognized by doctors and teachers.
Reporters routinely assured the public that while the rate of autism may seem to be on a nonstop upward path, it was merely the result of “better diagnosing,” “greater awareness,” and “ an expanded definition” of the disorder.
For years these excuses have been enough to dispel any real concern. I’ve seen them thousands of times in news reports over the past two decades, and I’ve always wondered why no one asks the obvious: WHERE ARE THE ADULTS WITH AUTISM at rates even remotely close to what we’re seeing in children? Most importantly, why do the numbers never level out? Why do they only trend upward?
Back in 2006 when I first wrote about The Really Big Lie the official autism rate was one in every 166 children in the U.S. Things continued to get worse as the years went on as shown by statistics from the Centers for Disease Control: 2007: one in 150, 2009: one in 110, 2012: one in 88, 2014: one in 68, 2018: one in 59, (also in 2018: one in 40 according to a separate study published in JAMA).
Really alarming was the rate from New Jersey in the 2018 CDC announcement: in that state one in every 34 children has autism. New Jersey is credited with having a statewide registry of children with autism so their identification of the disorder is considered very accurate.
What if New Jersey’s autism rate is happening everywhere? What if the national rate is really one in 34 children? No one even considered that possibility anywhere in the news reports when the numbers were announced in 2018.
The end of the Really Big Lie About Autism
Seriously it has to stop. How much better diagnosing can we afford? When will we openly admit that something of recent origin has dramatically impacted nearly two generations of U.S. children?
I’m seeing the end, kind of. Here are three reports from the past couple of days. Two are from California, one is from Minnesota.
We can’t keep closing our eyes to these numbers
On Feb 13 a news report from Brainerd, Minnesota announced that 22% of the students there were getting special education services there. (Minnesota’s state average is 16%.)
Statistics that I’ve compiled over the last couple of years reveal some other higher than average numbers in that state: Duluth 17% SPED, Austin 17.3% SPED, Red Wing 18% SPED, Minneapolis 18% SPED, Bemidji 20% SPED And remember the official U.S. percent for students receiving SPED services is 14
State and local numbers keep increasing
“Brainerd stayed consistent with 22% of students reported to receive special education services in 2018 as well. The district percentage has increased over the last five years, though, from 18.6% in 2015. The state average increased from 14.4% in 2015.”
A big part if this is autism
“In Brainerd, students primarily fall into one of the following disability categories: speech/language, learning disability, emotional/behavioral, other health disabled, autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay. The highest number of students — 360 — are considered to have learning disabilities, with the next highest category being developmental delay at 318, followed by autism spectrum disorder at 237. The developmental delay category had the highest increase from 2015 at 43%.”
And developmental delays and autism at never-before-seen rates are predicted to continue in Brainerd. “Superintendent Laine Larson said she expects to see more increases in that category in the coming years as well, so the district will keep that in mind moving forward.”
As implausible as it may sound, the special education assistant director attributed the stunning numbers to “earlier detections of the disability and more referrals from doctors.” This absurd explanation makes doctors and educators look completely incompetent. How did they miss these kids in the past? Why were their needs ignored?
Move on to California as disaster unfolds
On Feb 3 an eye-opening piece was published on the California education site Ed100 called, Special Education Costs Flood School Budgets. It focused on state statistics.
“The rising costs of special education services are overwhelming your school district budget. And we are talking big bucks. Nearly 800,000 students in California receive special education services — about one in every eight students.”
Numbers are up
“The cost of providing special education services in California has grown significantly over time. In 2017-18 the total cost was about $13 billion. According to the state Legislative Analyst Office this represented an increase of about 28 percent over a decade earlier, adjusted for inflation. The percentage of students receiving special education services jumped from 11 percent to 13 percent.”
A major reason costs are increasing is because there are more kids with autism. “About two-thirds of the cost increases reflect the growing number of students with severe disabilities, especially autism. According to the Legislative Analyst Report, ‘The share of students identified with autism has increased from 1 in 600 students in 1997-98 to about 1 in 50 students in 2018-19.’”
We’re not told why there are more kids with autism in California schools, but their cost is undeniable. While the writer, Carol Kocivar, former President of the California State PTA, was mostly concerned with the failure of the federal government to cover their share of the cost of educating special needs students, her statistics don’t lie: there are more disabled students in California schools especially ones with AUTISM.
Then on Feb 16, the piece California must face reality: Autism cases are increasing was published by CalMatters really got to the point. It was written by Jill Escher, a mother with two severely affected children with autism. She’s affiliated with local and national autism groups.
Escher cited chilling statistics from her state: “In 1999, the state of California was in shock: baffling even the most seasoned of authorities, autism cases in the developmental services system had spiked from about 4,000 in 1987 to about 13,000 cases in 1998.”
That was nothing of course. Escher reported California now recognizes more than 122,000 autism cases. She admitted that there’s no sign that this upward spike is leveling off. She also noted, “We hear little about autism data from our public health leaders or media.”
The impact of so many children with autism is far-reaching
“Schools can’t keep up with ever-growing demand. Emergency rooms and police departments are reeling from increasingly frequent crisis cases. Families are desperate for support and solutions.”
The future with tens of thousands of California children with autism aging out of school is scary. “[A]s autistic students are aging out of school and into an adult services system woefully unprepared to meet their complex needs. Based on Department of Developmental Services data, the demand for adult services and housing will likely grow five-fold over the next 20 years, from 28,000 developmentally disabled autistic adults over 21 today, quintupling to about 140,000 in 2040.”
Escher doesn’t believe Really Big Lie About Autism
Escher wrote, “Though it has become fashionable to blame rising awareness or diagnostic shifts, those arguments are well past their expiration date.”
Noting that after 2003, the criteria for an autism diagnosis in California became more stringent, she wrote that “the door for entry has been narrowing, not widening. No it’s not ‘better awareness.’”
So something in the environment is responsible for what’s happening to our children and we have to do something. This is the message from Jill Escher.
What’s really confounding is her blanket dismissal of the possibility that our unchecked, unsafe, liability-free vaccine schedule is to blame.
“While nobody fully understands what is behind the dramatic increase in autism, two things are clear: it’s not vaccines, and it’s not a change in criteria.”
Escher’s reasons for rejecting vaccines are straight from the CDC’s playbook:
“And of course vaccines have nothing to do with autism. Autism has its genesis in abnormal wiring up of the early brain, starting well before birth. Aside from biological implausibility, a multitude of epidemiological studies have found no link between vaccination and autism. If anything, vaccines protect against early life infection that can cause brain damage. …
While putting her trust in the science from officials in bed with the vaccine makers, Escher fails to name any other possible environmental cause. If it’s not the vaccines, what’s behind the epidemic of autism around the world? If children are born with autism, how does she explain the many cases of dramatic regression where normally developing children suddenly lose learned skills and become autistic? Why isn’t she interested in the more than 80 claims of vaccine-induced autism that have been compensated by the federal government?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.
Despite her denial of a link to vaccines, Escher is sounding a warning. Autism will bury us. Its march is relentless. We may celebrate it with blue lights and raise awareness with puzzle pieces, but we’re going to have to live with reality that autism is an epidemic. And unlike epidemics in the past where victims either died or recovered, this disabled population will live long and costly lives dependent on taxpayers who have had no interest in where they were all coming from.