According to the same study, the accepted prevalence of autism in 1978 was 4 per 10,000. To get the proper perspective on the relative difference between those numbers, lets look at a picture -
If this growth pattern were seen in any other disorder I think people would sit up and take notice. The word epidemic might even be used.
But this isn't any other field, this is autism, so there is some magic wand that makes these numbers make sense, right? The authors of the study suggest -
- improved recognition and detection
- changes in study methodology
- an increase in available diagnostic services
- increased awareness among professionals and parents
- growing acceptance that autism can coexist with a range of other conditions
- a widening of the diagnostic criteria
Or in short - the criteria changed, we are better at seeing it because more people know what to look for, and there are more services so more people are likely to seek the diagnosis. These reasons make up what I call the holy trinity of denial.
To be fair there is some truth to some of these reasons. The criteria in 1978 was different that it is today and more people know what autism looks like and are less likely to call it something else. Given the history of autism I don't think the services part holds water but that is a subject for another day.
But lets accept for a minute that all three reasons are true and each had the effect of doubling the number of cases. We would then be talking about 32 per 10,000 which is still a far cry from the 157 per 10,000 number.
I think science needs to come up with some better reasons for this growth, something that fits the facts, rather than sticking their collecting heads in the sand. Because if autism keeps growing at the same rate 30 years from now we will be seeing autism in every 1 out of 2 children and then there really will be a problem.