Friday, August 6, 2010

It Doesn't Matter Where They Came From

Probably the most important unanswered question when it comes to autism is whether there is a real increase in the number of people with autism or whether the increase is an artificial one that is being caused by changing definitions and social factors.  The answer to this single question has the potential to completely change how we look at autism.

However, at the same time, I would suggest that the answer to this question is quickly becoming a moot point as the needs of the ever increasing number of autistic children are quickly outpacing the services that are available for them.  The State of Texas seems to be learning this lesson the hard way -
Causes aside, autism’s effects are indisputably profound on students, parents and teachers. Nearly 30,000 of the 4.8 million students in Texas schools are classified as autistic, according to TEA data. Lawmakers have taken note of the growing autistic population and the increasing volume of complaints from frustrated parents. And they are looking to new programs and to other states for potential solutions.
Many Texas teachers have limited knowledge and training to teach students with autism. With more and more autistic students in regular classrooms, many parents say teachers must be better prepared.
The article mentions this 30,000 number is a 400% increase over the past decade but leaves out the fact that  the situation is only going to get worse.  If the most recent figures from the AAP and CDC (1 in 110) are to be believed, the number of children with autism in Texas should still be another 50% higher - almost 45,000 children.

If the rate of autism isn't increasing, then I have to wonder what these extra 22,000 children were called before being lumped in with the autism group and how their needs were being met.  If the children - and their needs - have always been there, why isn't the education system in Texas prepared to deal with them?

But regardless, it doesn't really matter where these children came from, what matters is that they are here now.


  1. While I completely understand where you are coming from, I have to disagree with you slightly.

    Your point is that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed NOW. I completely agree with that. Where I disagree is when you say we should focus on those already affected by autism and focus less on the cause.

    To find the most effective treatment to any disease, one must first find the cause. Once causation is determined, then better treatments can be obtained.

    It's not so much that the Government and medical industries are focusing too much on causation and not enough on helping families affected by autism, it's that there is absolutely no sense of urgency in doing either. This is the problem.

    The way things are going, every family in the United States will be affected by autism in one way or another within the next 20 years. Our already bankrupt schools and government will be awash in a mass of children and adults with special needs and they will have nothing in the way of services for these people. And yet, they continue on, oblivious, expecting the answer to just fall in their lap.

  2. Maybe I put it badly, but I actually agree with you. I don't think we should give a more attention to the existing children at the expense of the basic research but rather we should be giving them equal focus.

    We definitely need to identity the causes of autism and, if at all possible, to prevent autism from happening in the first place. But the children who already have autism need a tremendous amount of help if they have any hope of overcoming their disability.

    And at the same time, basic research is going nowhere fast. I think it will be (at least) another
    decade before we have any real idea what the causes of autism might be and then a few more decades after that to find effective treatments or ways of preventing autism in the first place.

    We really need to step up our efforts in both areas.

  3. Well said. Now, how do we actually go about stepping up our efforts?

  4. Not only does my son have autism (now mild pdd), but my 40 year old brother has it as well. We moved around a bit. I don't remember running into any other kids like him, neither do any of my friends. My husband grew up in a town of 1600 people and so far, two of his classmates have children with autism (not including ours). The traits are obvious enough that they would not have gone unnoticed 30 years ago. I'm sure a percent have, but not on the scale we have today. And autism isn't the only thing that has skyrocketed, Asthma, ADHD, Allergies, Speech Delays, Dyslexia, Childhood cancer, etc. Why we're not doing all we can to get to the bottom of it is obscene.

  5. I have never met (face to face) a person who was worked in education for any length of time who remembers having many children with autism in their classrooms in decades past. In fact, they tend to remember the few that they did run across because of how different they looked from other children.

    Now that doesn't mean that these children weren't there but I still find it interesting nonetheless.