So autism is common. Who cares?
Before you yell at me for the title, pause and sense the sarcasm. I do care; I care deeply. As a full-time practicing pediatrician, I have continued to witness an alarming increase in the number of healthy babies in my practice who regress into autism during the second year of life. And it’s been rising every year; I feel as if I’m having the “your baby may have autism” talk with more and more of my patients now compared to 14 years ago when I started.
Here’s what I’m mad about: Most of the headlines, commentaries, and comments I’ve seen since the CDC announced the new autism rate of 1 in 88 kids yesterday say DON’T PANIC, IT’S NOT REALLY RISING, SO IT’S OKAY – THERE’S NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.
I’d like to know why the freaking heck the autism rate is 1 in 88 in the first place? WHY ON EARTH ARE WE, AS A SPECIES, CREATING SUCH A HIGH RATE OF OFFSPRING THAT HAVE DEVELOPMENTAL PROBLEMS? All I see are people breathing a sigh of relief that it “isn’t really” on the rise. But keep in mind that this latest number is for children born in 2000. And it’s a 23% rise over those born in 1998. And it’s 78% higher than those born in 1994. If that doesn’t scare you, then I don’t know what will. So, how about the babies born today? What will their rate be? 1 in 20? 1 in 10? We only have about 10 years to wait until we find out (since the CDC waits until kids are 8 years old in order to study them). What does the rate have to climb to for people to finally wake up and smell the epidemic?
Let’s stop pretending autism isn’t a skyrocketing problem and do something about it. Ok, I know we are making some effort to determine the cause and find effective treatments, but the reactions to this study make it seem like people are purposely trying to keep the FACT that autism IS truly rising a secret in order to avoid a panic. That way, they can keep doing their research at a snail’s pace instead of treating this as the epidemiological emergency that it really is.
What I see that many in the media don’t see is the families. They come in my office for help every day. The families are struggling. The kids affected are struggling. We need to respond to help these families and their children.
Instead of seeing the CDC conclude in their study “ASDs continue to be an important public health concern . . . underscoring the need for continued resources,” but let’s not worry in the meantime because it’s “not really rising,” I’d like to see someone from the CDC write, “OM-freakin-G, autism affects 1 in 54 boys! What the heck is going on! Let’s figure this out!” MORE RESOURCES, MORE RESEARCH, MORE HELP NOW!
Pediatrician and author of The Autism Book: What Every Parent Need to Know About Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery, and Prevention