Apparently the CDC recently released a study claiming that now 1 in 88 children have autism. I’ve been seeing a large number of articles and blogs about that, with lots of speculation as to why it could be happening. The answers seem to largely be split between “better testing” and the usual conspiracy theorists talking about vaccines or “toxins” or other such things. I did, however, find two articles to be particularly interesting.
This article was one that I found talking about the issue. There was one particular sentence towards the end that really jumped out at me. ”[The CDC] checked health and school records to see which children met the criteria for autism, even if they hadn’t been formally diagnosed.”
Maybe it’s just me, but that seems very, very odd. Health and school records do not a diagnosis make. Instead, what it seems to be is that 1 in 88 children might have an autism spectrum disorder, but it does not seem at all reasonable to treat that statistic like an actual fact, given how it was achieved.
This brings me to a blog post I found talking about the issue. In it, a parent of a child with a developmental delay (DD) cautiously speculates that maybe an increasing number of children with DD might be getting lumped in with autism, even if they don’t actually fit. Why might this be happening? Well, there is a lot of overlap. They can look superficially similar, and it can require more careful testing to determine what is actually going on. Even worse, parents have incentive to diagnose their developmentally delayed child with autism, regardless of whether or not it’s accurate because apparently right now autistic children get better support and more services than children with other developmental delays.
I was actually rather shocked when I read that last article. Not just because of what it said, but because I realized that in my ponderings on Asperger’s and autism, thoughts of other DDs had never even crossed my mind. I like the idea of neurodiversity and autism pride and celebrating differences and all that stuff, but how can I champion neurodiversity while privileging ASDs above other forms of DDs or neurological differences? The answer is – I can’t. Yes, my personal focus is Asperger’s because that’s what I have, but I can at least keep in mind that there is more to neurodiversity than autism and NTs (neurotypicals). April is autism awareness month, which I’m sure is a good thing for many people, but I think for me it’s also a good time to remember that there are other things that also deserve awareness, and they seem to be getting lost in the noise.
All of which leads me to speculate if maybe the people doing that CDC study were unconsciously privileging autism as well – lumping children with overlapping symptoms into autism, even if they fit something else better. I guess that’s another way of saying that I’m not so sure I trust this 1 in 88 statistic.