Thursday, April 5, 2012

Is Autism on the Increase?

There has been considerable concern recently that autism in children appears to be on the increase. Fears that this is related to childhood vaccination (spread initially by the claims of British physician Andrew Wakefield)  have now been widely discredited. However, there is still speculation that we are being increasingly subjected to environmental risk factors, including pollutants, increased parental age, poor diet and depression and mental disorders in pregnant women, which may manifest themselves in newborn babies.

An often overlooked point is that it is possible that the rate of autism itself may not be increasing, but rather the rate of detection or diagnosis. This seems very plausible, given that schools seem to be more ready nowadays to look to diagnose autism or Asperger Syndrome in children rather than simply labeling them as having behavioural issues (in some cases, perhaps too ready?). This is suggestive that we (and in particular the mass media) often take scientific findings at face value and do not question issues with how data is collected and how the methodology of its collection may change over time.

In this article for the James Randi Educational Foundation, Dr. Steven Novella investigates the claim that we are in the midst of an autism epidemic:
Is There an Autism Epidemic

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