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Medicine Science

Continued Rise In Autism Diagnoses Puzzles Researchers, Galvanizes Advocates 558 558

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has raised eyebrows, and concern among current and prospective parents, with a new report documenting that the rate of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in the United States jumped 30% between 2008 and 2010, from one in 88 to one in 68 children. CDC officials don't know, however, whether the startling increase is due to skyrocketing rates of the disorder or more sensitive screening, or a combination of both."
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Continued Rise In Autism Diagnoses Puzzles Researchers, Galvanizes Advocates

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  • Part of the problem in the UK (so may not be the same in the US) is that there is additional funding and support for kids with diagnoses like ASDs so there is a big incentive for schools and parents to push for it. It's driving a whole approach of medicalising behaviour. Kids who in the past would have been simply regarded as a bit unusual and who a teacher would have had to just cope with are now being given medical diagnoses and possibly additional help.

    As discussed in the article what would be interesting to see is more detail on the distribution of ASD diagnoses, in terms of where they sit on the spectrum. If there is an increase the diagnosis of severe autism (the kids who would reasonably have been diagnose as autistic 30 years ago) then that would suggest that there is some environmental factor at work. If, on the other hand it's mostly high functioning and borderline then it seems likely to be mostly down to diagnosis.

    While I'm very much in favour of education being better able to deal with kids' differences, I'm not sure medicalising it is the way to go.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @05:55AM (#46619365)

    Autism is mostly a crock of shit. Why must weird kids be diagnosed with something? Just allow them to be weird.

    Also, if autistic and ADD and Asperger kids are getting more and more then we should get rid of them before the entire population is fucked.

  • by MitchDev (2526834) on Monday March 31, 2014 @05:57AM (#46619371)

    It's just a repeat of the "ADD" craze the medical industry was in in the 80's and 90's to make doctors feel needed and important....

  • Could it be food? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ruir (2709173) on Monday March 31, 2014 @05:58AM (#46619377) Homepage
    The way we feed has changed radically in a few decades. Nowadays we can only find often GMO sources of some foods, not talking about plastic food and MGS sources ... cookies, potato chips, bread... As a pure anecdotal "evidence" I was recently with my wife in the Philippines two and half weeks, and despite eating far much more, she lost weight, and I lost my belly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @06:54AM (#46619555)

    My grandparents clearly had autism. It was never formally diagnosed. They had all sorts of interesting personality disorders (DSM!) and unhealthy destructive relationships.

    My parents clearly had autism. It was never formally diagnosed. They have all sorts of interesting personality disorders (DSM) and unhealthy destructive relationships.

    I clearly have autism. It was never formally diagnosed. My parents dealt with it by physical punishment. They hit me with wooden sticks so they wouldn't hurt their hands. I grew up really fucked up. Imagine being randomly beaten for reasons you do not and can not understand. I spent 2 decades clinically depressed, actively trying to kill myself. I know what arsenic tastes like. I know what it's like to hold a knife to my wrist, a gun to my head, and want, more than anything, to pull the trigger and end my pain and suffering. Sometimes you hold on for just another day. Sometimes for only a few more seconds of life. You know how a child's mind works? I used to wonder if I had already died, and already gone to hell, as I couldn't imagine anything worse.

    I got out of that. I got help. I spent almost another 20 years in psychotherapy, putting the pieces of my mind back together again. Unlearning the self-destructive behaviors I had unconsciously accepted. Not an easy thing.

    Today, I'm in my fifties. Today, my children have autism. It has been diagnosed. I have them seeing some of the best doctors in the country, right on the leading (bleeding) edge of medicine.

    Today we understand how layers of the brain's neural structure do not develop properly in autistic kids. How autism has many causes. Some kids will respond to gluten free diets. Others to dairy free diets. There are blood tests that can pick up on the antigens, telling us which kids can be helped by such alterations. It's known that their gut (intestines) are leaking proteins, causing the immune reaction picked up by the blood tests. It's known that these proteins can bind to neural receptor sites, and how they can act exactly like narcotics.

    Today it's known how still others kids have problems with nuts, with artificial sweeteners, or with artificial colors. There are a many dietary problems, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Other kids have difficulties with heavy metals. Others have, well, the list of causes here goes on and on and on. Autism is a catch-all disease, describing symptoms with a great number of underlying causative factors.

    Bottom line here is that there is a lot we can do to help these kids without fucking them up for life with depression or psychosis through abuse. If you don't deal with their problems, it is abuse. We assume control they do not possess. They can develop into great engineers, doctors, whatever. They're bright kids. Just different. They don't have to become monsters. We don't have to turn them into monsters!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 31, 2014 @07:13AM (#46619607)

    I suspect you're talking out of your ass. We know for a fact that older parents increase the risk for a long range of defects. That we live in a society where prospective parents wait longer and longer until they "do the deed" so to speak is also an undeniable fact. So, in what way is it surprising that autism etc is on the rise?

  • School aid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday March 31, 2014 @07:41AM (#46619731)

    So the neighbor kid was diagnosed with this... and I didn't want to irritate his parents by pointing out the obvious but that kids just obnoxious, there's nothing wrong with him. But oh well... then the school brought in a specialist for MY kid, and they determined that my kid was having trouble in school because he was bi-lingual. You see, my son was born in Africa and we adopted him when he was 2. The funny thing is, he never spoke their language. The only word he knew in his native language when we got him was "Abas" which means "Father" which he'd yell whenever he was afraid of something. I pointed this out to the school but they insisted. Being somewhat of a libertarian I objected to the school wasting money on a special program for him. Then they got nasty. I was trying to impede the progress of my child and it would not be tolerated. A week later the teacher had an assistant 2 days of the week provided by the state to handle her "Bi-lingual" class. Ah, it was all clear now... The school diagnoses disabilities to garner more aid, and more resources from state and federal agencies. They push parents to doctors they know will produce favorable diagnoses and use anything they can find in the childs background to get the result they want.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday March 31, 2014 @08:13AM (#46619879) Homepage

    I would blame Obama, but that doesnt fit the same time window.

    That doesn't stop people.

    A Third Of Louisiana Republicans Blame Obama For Hurricane Katrina Response Under Bush [washingtonpost.com]

    (poll data here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/1619... [scribd.com] )

  • by s0nicfreak (615390) on Monday March 31, 2014 @08:37AM (#46620009) Homepage Journal

    before the entire population is fucked

    Have you ever considered that perhaps Autism is an evolution of humans, rather than a thing which will "fuck" us?

  • by gtall (79522) on Monday March 31, 2014 @08:52AM (#46620127)

    Really? Ever see someone in their manic mode of manic depression? I have a sister with this as well as schizophrenia because many mental disorders rarely come alone, it is something like a smorgasbord. Anyhow, one evening she took exception to the wall-to-wall carpeting in Ma's bedroom while Ma was in the hospital. She ripped up that carpeting in the bedroom and an adjacent room, moving several pieces of large furniture out of the way to do it. I asked her how long it took, it took a few hours in the evening and a few the following morning.

    She ripped up the carpeting with her bare hands. That's what can happen when she doesn't take her meds. And that was during a manic episode, the schizophrenic episodes are stranger.

    Unless you've lived with someone with mental illness, you don't know squat about it.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday March 31, 2014 @08:57AM (#46620159)

    There is much, much more to the process of professional evaluation and diagnosis than what you describe. The process is a whole lot more rigorous than idle speculation.

    Sure it is. But that doesn't mean there can't be other things going on here.

    Let me tell you a little story.

    About a decade ago, I taught high school for a few years. First, I spent a few years in public schools, mostly middle class or lower middle class communities. The percentage of students I had who had diagnoses (mostly cognitive disorders or deficits) which would get classroom accommodations like additional time on tests, etc.? About 1 or 2%. A REALLY small number.

    Then, the last year I taught high school, I taught in an elite private school which was one of those "feeder schools" to Ivy League colleges and such. The percentage of students with these accommodations and diagnoses? Roughly 15 to 20%. (I should be clear that there are some private schools known to cater to kids who have difficulties in normal public schools -- this was not that kind of school. You'd only tend to go here if you were rich and your parents wanted to get you into an elite college.)

    Now, there are a couple potential explanations for this significant difference.

    (1) The elite private school with rich kids had parents who had enough resources to devote to diagnosing obscure disorders and borderline cases, where the public school kids had to depend on an overworked school psychologist or something to note some problems.

    (2) The more cynical explanation: The rich kids got extra time when they wanted it because the parents had the resources to find a psychologist who could find a vague or "flexible" diagnosis that would allow the kids to have a "leg up" on not only standard school assignments, but also things like standardized tests (extra time on the SAT, etc.). A number of these diagnoses are related to things that would put a kid somewhere on the autism "spectrum."

    The second cynical explanation is not just idle speculation. It's been a documented trend, along with overprescription of drugs that have some cognitive benefit, which has received major media attention.

    Honestly, I'm sure both of these explanations are true. But they both go a long way to explaining the continued rise in documented cognitive disorders -- and as more middle class parents learn about these things and want their kids tested (either because they legitimately see something wrong, or because they want to try to "game the system" like their richer peers), it's inevitable that the numbers will go up.

    In recent years, I've been teaching at the college level, and I've seen similar trends. Kids at elite institutions are more likely to come in with lists of accommodations for extra time, etc. because of some obscure cognitive disorder, while kids at lesser universities usually only have these things when they are truly struggling.

    I have a friend who is an educational psychologist, and when I asked her about my observations, she flat-out told me that many of the diagnoses I've seen for rich kids are used precisely to take advantage of the system, because they are more vague in terms of diagnostic criteria.

    I should be clear that I also have some people in my family who have severe cognitive disorders, and I completely understand why parents fight at every level to get whatever help they can for their kids. But it's also clear that there are people taking advantage of this system, which is driving up diagnosis numbers, but also drawing resources away from kids who really need it. It's also created this bizarre system in education where your diagnosis determines whether you get "double time" or "time-and-a-half" or "time-and-a-quarter" or whatever for tests, including major standardized ones that can have significant impacts. How do we diagnose kids with that level of precision to determine exactly what "handicap" to give them, and how do we deal with rich parents who can "shop around" for a convenient diagnosis from a psychologist?

  • Re:really? really. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday March 31, 2014 @09:20AM (#46620349)

    Actually, as someone likely on the autism spectrum* - albeit high functioning, I find it easier to communicate via social networking (and online in general) than face-to-face. With face-to-face, there are problems like needing to think of the appropriate thing to say in the appropriate manner, keeping appropriate levels of eye contact, getting the tone right, blocking out distractions like other conversations, and doing all of this on-the-fly in a short enough period of time. Often I have exactly the right words in my head, but they come out of my mouth all wrong (if they come out at all). With online communication, I can type out my reply, correct it five times to hone my message before sending it. (Like I've done with this one.) If anything, I've found that online communication has helped me with face-to-face communication, not "increased my autism."

    * My son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and everything that I read seems to describe me as well. I could seek a diagnosis but it would spend money we don't have and wouldn't help my son out. So I'm comfortable being "likely" instead of "definitely."

  • Re:really? really. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bickerdyke (670000) on Monday March 31, 2014 @09:22AM (#46620365)

    Without a doubt.

    But how does that contradict parents doctor hopping until they find one who is willing to diagnose a medical excuse for cognitive or behavioral deficiencies?

    but as I said in my original post. That still leaves room for an actual increase or a perceived increase due to better diagnostics.

  • Re:really? really. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday March 31, 2014 @09:25AM (#46620401)

    ^^^ This is exactly true. The problem that many on the autistic spectrum face is that they can't figure out how to communicate their thoughts with neurotypical people or they get overwhelmed by sensory input. In the case of the latter, imagine trying to give a speech while five speakers play different genres of music turned up to 11, with spotlights aimed right at your eyes, and a team of people poking you with sticks. Now imagine that there was someone in the audience for whom the music and lights appeared normal. How articulate would you appear to this person? Probably not very. Autistic people get written off as "dumb" when the real description is often "has a hard time communicating."

  • by s0nicfreak (615390) on Monday March 31, 2014 @09:33AM (#46620475) Homepage Journal
    Society is changing to interact less in person, and more via electronics - which Autistic people are great at. Having a teenage son (and by extension seeing many different teenagers) I have seen that you don't have to be unawkward and sociable in person to get laid anymore. Even if the "normal" people pay you no attention, the other Autistic people - where there are plenty of - will assist you in passing on your genes.
  • by RebelWithoutAClue (578771) on Monday March 31, 2014 @09:35AM (#46620495) Homepage
    I'm surprised that no one has mentioned this study yet. Perhaps Hypothyroid rates are skyrocketing and with it autism? http://www.sciencedaily.com/re... [sciencedaily.com] Autism four times likelier when mother's thyroid is weakened Pregnant women who don't make nearly enough thyroid hormone are nearly 4 times likelier to produce autistic children than healthy women, report scientists from the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute and Erasmus Medical Centre in an upcoming Annals of Neurology. The association emerged from a study of more than 4,000 Dutch mothers and their children, and it supports a growing view that autism spectrum disorders can be caused by a lack of maternal thyroid hormone, which past studies have shown is crucial to the migration of fetal brain cells during embryo development.
  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday March 31, 2014 @09:58AM (#46620693)

    It's not that the problems are "cultural not medical", but that the cultural response exasperates the medical issue. Before my son was diagnosed, his principal convinced us that he was purposefully being defiant and disruptive. On the principal's suggestions, we had a regime of punishments put in place. My son's behavior got worse, not better. Once we got he diagnosis, we stopped those punishments immediately and put a program in place to help him based on our better knowledge of what was happening with him. (Unrelated note: That principal later threatened us when we tried to get an IEP because we "went over his head." Thankfully, he was removed albeit due to an unrelated scandal.)

    So, yes, Autism is a medical condition (a developmental disorder) but a cultural mis-understanding of it and wrong responses to it can lead to the condition worsening. Thankfully, people are getting better informed about what Autism is. Unfortunately, not everyone is well informed and too many people make judgments about what Autism is based on little to no information/personal experience. (Sadly, judging by some of the comments here, there are many people on Slashdot who fall into that category. And I wasn't talking about the commenter I just replied to.)

  • by funwithBSD (245349) on Monday March 31, 2014 @10:59AM (#46621305)

    My son is autistic too.

    With the right combination of Physical Therapy, Speech therapy, and Occupation Therapy over the last 7 years, he is almost indistinguishable from a "normal" person. He is not that much different from your average geeky kid, except his short term memory is like a database with broken indexing: it is all there, but he has to really work to get it out. If you supply a prompt, the data floods back out of him at a surprising rate.

    So far, his only real social setback is he has NO IDEA that all the girls around him adore him. Kid is putting out some sort of weapons grade pheromone or something.

    He came home the other day with some cool looking knotting thing going on. Asked him about it, turns out the girl who is the top of the social pecking order in his class saw his shoe untied. She offered to tie it for him at lunch, spent half of lunch break redoing the lacing.

    I don't think he will have any problems passing on his genes.


  • by BlackHawk-666 (560896) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Monday March 31, 2014 @01:57PM (#46623387) Homepage

    Don't be confused by the nice guys girls like to spend their time with, and the arseholes they end up fucking in the back alley.

"May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." -- George Carlin