Saturday, September 15, 2007

1 in 94 Autism Rate In New Jersey AND The USA?

One of the interesting discrepancies, amongst many, in the autism world is the difference between the 1 in 150 rate cited by the CDC in the US and the 1 in 100 rate cited by Simon Baron-Cohen and other experts as the autism rate in the UK. What is also interesting is the 1 in 94 rate cited by the CDC for New Jersey which is obviously much closer to the UK figure. Is the 1 in 94 NJ rate more representative of actual rates across the US ?

If the rates of autism are affected, in whole or in part, by environmental considerations then it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach any conclusions about USA rates based on the NJ figures. But if there are no environmental factors influencing the development of autism, if autism is, as some argue, simply a naturally occurring genetic variation, then it may well be that the NJ rate is representative of the USA as a whole with the higher NJ rate, which brings it much closer to the UK, being attributable to better awareness, diagnosis and other services compared to other parts of the US.

Kristina Chew is the host and author of Autism Vox, a very well written "autism" blog which presents a neurodiversity ideological perspective on autism, a perspective which does not embrace environmental considerations as possible causes of autism or rising autism rates. She is also a New Jersey resident and has commented on New Jersey's 1 in 94 rate suggesting some factors which, if true, would seem to suggest that the NJ autism rate of 1 in 94 might be a more accurate number for the US as a whole then the 1 in 150 cited by the CDC. As she comments in A Whole Lot of Autism To Account For in New Jersey:

Rather than trying to get to some “bottom,” some specific thing that we can point to and say “this is the cause of autism,” I would suggest that numerous other force are working in concert. These forces range from “better understanding of autism and diagnosis” to the expanded definition of autism to embrace the notion of an autism spectrum.

Ms Chew's list of "numerous other forces" working in concert does not include possible environmental causes. The autism spectrum factor is a constant in the US. That leaves better understanding of autism and diagnosis as explaining New Jersey's higher rate. Presumably, if Ms Chew's list is a good explanation for NJ's higher rate, than rates in other regions would climb if those regions also benefited from better understanding and diagnosis. In that case their autism rates should resemble New Jersey's 1 in 94 rate ... or perhaps at least the UK's 1 in 100.

Of course that assessment could change considerably if environmental factors are shown to play a causal role, to one extent or another, in some cases of autism.

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