"In the meantime, he [Baron-Cohen] says that the best, most carefully conducted studies all show around 1 per cent of children lie on the autism spectrum (see box) and there is no reason to suspect that this has suddenly changed. There has been a gradual rise over decades, he says, but this reflects the fact that children are more routinely assessed, greater public awareness, and a wider diagnostic net.
The National Autistic Society also quotes a figure of 1 per cent for the incidence of autistic spectrum disorders. Benet Middleton, the NAS’s director of communications, says that, having spoken to Baron-Cohen, the charity had no plans to revise its figures. Middleton says: “This is an unpublished study that has not been peer-reviewed, and there are lots of reasons why studies don’t get published. The research that’s been published and peer-reviewed suggests a rate of 1 per cent.
1 in 100? The accepted UK figure of 1 in 100 is substantially greater than the 1 in 150 figure cited by the CDC in the US which until fairly recently cited an autism incidence figure of 1 in 166. Why such a huge gap between the UK and US figures? And why are education authorities in Massachusetts reporting a near doubling of autism cases in the past few years? Professor Baron-Cohen's explanation of of diagnostic criteria changes implemented in the 1994 DSM revision, with greater awareness, would seem plausible to explain some of the increase.
I am the father of an 11 year old boy with classic Autism Disorder with serious deficits. Unlike the good professor I find his assertion that 1 % of the population of the UK very alarming. I find a doubling of autism cases in the State of Massachusetts education system in the last few years alarming. I am not an autism authority but I am thankful that research is continuing into potential genetic and environmental factors in the rise in autism rates.
The world does not need another irresponsible Wakefield "vaccines cause autism" scare. But the world can also do without blithe Baron-Cohen assurances that the rise in autism numbers is solely attributable to changes in diagnostic criteria and greater awareness.
1 % of a national population is autistic? This humble "autism dad" finds that number very alarming Professor.