In October, a new government-run study found the the rate of
autism among U.S. kids had risen sharply to 1 in 91, down from 1 in
150 a few years ago and rates as low as 1 in 10,000 in the
we reported in October, the report was met with skepticism and
general confusion over what the new numbers really mean. There is
no clear diagnostic test for autism and symptoms vary widely (a
person is said to fall somewhere on the "autism spectrum"). As soon
as the study hit the presses, doctors faced a chorus of parents who
wanted to know: Is there more autism out there or just more
diagnoses of autism?
The medical consensus was that the spike was the result of
better diagnostic tools and higher awareness of autism. Kids that
might have once been labeled "developmentally delayed" or even
"mentally retarded" were now being given labels of -- and, they
pointed out, treatment for -- autism.
study released this week by the University of Exeter in
Britain, perhaps not surprisingly, found that people affected by
autism aren't buying it. A review of letters sent to health
professionals shows that people who have autism or know someone
with autism overwhelmingly believe the increase is actual -- that
autism is increasing in prevalence rather than simply being
diagnosed more often. And many of them blame environmental factors
like immunizations for the increase, despite most medical experts
denying a link.
"Our study highlights the contrast between lay explanations of
the increasing prevalence of autism and the consensus opinion of
medical experts," says researcher Ginny Russell. "It also
demonstrates the strength of lay belief that the rise is due to
risks from modern technologies and changing lifestyles, showing a
latent unease with these developments."
That frustration could be heard in several comments on our
November story. From Teresa Conrick: "As a parent to a teen with
severe autism, who regressed after a series of vaccines before the
age of 3, these numbers are real and frightening." From Joanna
Antonetti, who also has a child with autism: "It makes my blood
boil when I hear comments from doctors that claim all the
scientific evidence proves that vaccines do not cause autism."
No answers here, but more food for thought...and possibly fuel
for the fire.
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