So Autism is (now even more) Common . . . Anybody Care Yet?
By: Dr. Bob Sears – Pediatrician and TACA Physician Advisory Member
Welcome to part 2 in my series of blogs that will continue to be written until someone at the Centers for Disease Control and PREVENTION gets on the ball and says “Yes, we have an autism epidemic! We are now very concerned and will do something about it.”
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics just released a study today entitled “Changes in Prevalence of Parent-Reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-aged U.S. Children: 2007 to 2011-2012.” (1) Their findings: 1 in 50 children ages 6-17 have autism.
I will ask again: Why is nobody alarmed? Why is nobody at the CDC issuing a press release saying, “Parents, we hear you, we are just as concerned as you are. We now realize there is an epidemic that continues to worsen year after year and we are dedicated to determining the cause.”
Here is why – you can read it in the conclusion of the study: “much of the prevalence increase from 2007 [which was 1 in 86 school-age children] to 2011-2012 [1 in 50 children] was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized ASD.”
Translation: “Don’t worry. Sure, autism is common, but it’s no more common now than it used to be, so there’s no need to panic.”
Well, I’ll tell you that as a pediatrician and a parent, I am in a panic. Partly because I continue to see patients in my own office develop autism at an alarming rate. Partly because I continue to see the children of friends and relatives develop autism spectrum disorders. On a very personal level, my own older children who are now 17 and 20, will probably start having kids of their own soon, and I can’t yet tell them what causes autism and how to completely prevent it. Back when my kids were young, I thought we would surely get to the bottom of this before they would be grown up and start having kids of their own. Well, now we are here, and we still aren’t getting any closer to an answer. Why? “Because there isn’t an epidemic.”
If I told you, “Hey – there’s a new infectious disease that will strike 2% of all children that will significantly impair them for their entire life,” wouldn’t you expect the CDC to jump all over this and get to the bottom of it quickly? If we have a sudden epidemic, the CDC jumps all over it to avoid a panic. The swine flu comes to mind. But if there’s a disease that is very slowly making its way through our population with only a very gradual, but questionable increase, then there’s no reason to panic. We’ll get to the bottom of it someday. That’s how I think the CDC is looking at this. They certainly want to help. They are good people who do good work. I know they’ll find the answer some day. But they are trying to portray autism as something that has always been around and is barely increasing. They don’t want parents to panic. They don’t want people to stop having children. They don’t want people to start making up reasons why autism is increasing. They don’t want parents to look for answers on their own.
The problem with this approach is that it leaves the million or more children with autism and their families out in the cold, feeling alone,like victims of an epidemic that no one will admit is happening. And it means that another million children will develop autism over the next ten years.
Back in medical school, I rarely heard the word autism. Now, not a day goes by without autism being discussed in my practice. We must have answers now. We need to have this epidemic acknowledged by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics. We need to know why autism is happening, and how to more effectively treat it and help children recover. We are doing fairly well at this for some kids. We do bring some children to recovery, but not enough. For every child that does recover, several more are being diagnosed to take his or her place.
We need to be concerned. We need to act with a sense of urgency. We have to care more about autism and do something about it. Parents and the future generation of children are counting on us. And I will keep raising concern in hopes that someday this message will be heard and action will be taken.
Dr. Bob Sears
TACA Physician Advisory Member
Pediatrician and author of The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery and Prevention
For more information about Dr. Bob, please see www.askdrsears.com