Is autism becoming more common?
Public health officials in California are describing a surprising rise in reported cases of autism.
Last week, the California Department of Developmental Services reported that there had been an alarming increase in the number of autism cases in the state. In four years, from December 1998 through December 2002, the number of people who received services almost doubled, from 10,360 to 20,377. The statistics didn?t include children under three or people who who have less severe forms of autism, such as Asperger syndrome.
Has the incidence of autism really risen or has there been an increase in reporting of the condition? Dr. Ron Huff, senior psychologist in California''s Department of Developmental Services discusses the phenomenon in an interview with Newsweek.
The sheer increase in the number of children with autism has precipitated more people knowing about the service and asking for it. And a portion could also be attributed to better diagnostic methodology. But at least one formal epidemiologic study, completed in the fall of 2002, confirms [an increase in occurrence]. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also just published a study in 2002 involving several counties around Atlanta that shows rates equal to or slightly higher than our rates here in California. And that was a formally conducted study.
I am utterly uncertain what is going on in regard to the cause of autism and its apparent increase in frequency. However, it does not strike me as farfetched that both could have genetic and environmental reasons.
The blogger at Astonished Head credits the latter, believing environmental pollutants and autism are related.
Of course, Europe isn't all bad. They're a hell of a lot better than we are at recognizing and banning persistent organic pollutants. Here in the U.S. we don't seem to care enough about skyrocketing autism and cancer rates to properly examine the idea that maybe--just maybe--our saturation of the environment and our bodies with chemicals that were unknown to the Earth's 4.5 billion year old ecosystem until we created them during the past 100 years is a very bad thing. Not to mention the sudden appearance of hermaphroditic frogs with six legs and the disappearance of entire species' worth of normal frogs. And on and on. We sure do what we can to protect the chemical industry's bottom line though, don't we?
If Dr. Huff is prescient, we will know whether Astonished Head is right in a few years.