Saturday, May 30, 2009

Celebrating 30 years of better diagnosis

As was widely expected from leaks earlier this year a new study has been released that estimates that the current prevalence of autism in the UK is 157 per 10,000. That means that 1 out of every 64 children is expected to have some form of autism, or in a simple percentage form 1.5% of all children in the UK.

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 -

For every child in 1978 that was thought to have autism there are slightly over 39 today.

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 -
  1. improved recognition and detection
  2. changes in study methodology
  3. an increase in available diagnostic services
  4. increased awareness among professionals and parents
  5. growing acceptance that autism can coexist with a range of other conditions
  6. 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.


  1. MJ, this is Phil. As I have been banned from posting from Mitchell's blog I wanted to ask you who your provider is. It may be possible to unban you but it depends on who that would release. There are some extremely dangerous people who have been banned from viewing my site (John Best Jnr for example). I have nothing against you.

  2. Phil, there is no need to unblock anything as I more than capable of reading your site via the cache at google or other similar services. I am not sure why you feel that people reading information you post poses a risk to your mental health, but whatever, you do what you have to do.

    If anyone was wondering what this comment was about look here for more information.

  3. The reason it poses a mental health risk is because the people I am blocking are trying to interfere with my real life and my routine (which is essential to said mental health) by deliberately taking commentary I make on my site out of context and try to destroy my name in the process - an action that causes trauma for me because it requires a response etc etc. It also causes trauma for my loved ones, which also doesn't assist with my own mental health.

    There are some crazy people out there, and I've already dealt with one in the courts. I don't want to have to go after anyone else, and the ban is a part of that effort.

    Good idea with the cache. Don't forget that it's not always up to date.

    Hope all that helps you understand the issues I'm dealing with.