WHNT.com, from Huntsville, Alabama, reports statistics from an Alabama state task force report which says that the number of children in Alabama's public schools diagnosed with autism has grown from 68 in 1990 to 849 in 2000 and to 2,297 in 2006. Those who accept, as an article of faith, that there are no environmental factors in the worldwide increases in autism will immediately point to the changes in the DSM diagnostic criteria and definition of autism, increased awareness, and families seeking access to services by seeking an autism diagnosis for their children, as the sole explanation for such an increase. Some of these arguments are undoubtedly valid explanations for explaining part of such increases.
The changes in definition of autism began primarily in 1994 with the DSM-IV the last major revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association. Some will argue that those changes did not have any impact for a couple of years afterward and that makes sense. But that argument does not explain the dramatic increase, the tripling of reported autism diagnoses in the Alabama report between 2000 and 2006. Here in New Brunswick Canada my son was first diagnosed with an autism disorder in 1998. The DSM changes were reflected in practice in this area at that time. By early 2000 there had been major reviews of Autism Disorders conducted in California, New York and Maine and by the office of the US Surgeon General. The definition changes and awareness arguments do not seem to offer much explanation for the nearly tripling of autism diagnoses amongst Alabama school children between 2000 and 2006.
Nor does the "parents pushing for autism diagnoses to obtain services for their children" argument, provide any assistance in explaining the Alabama increases between 2000 and 2006. The recent Alabama autism task force report recently reported that Alabama lacks the autism services offered by nearby states and across the United States.
The dramatic increase, the near tripling, of autism diagnoses amongst Autistic school children between 2000 and 2006 should raise serious questions about a possible environmental factors in contributing to such increases. Smug assumptions to the contrary are simply not based on evidence or sound reasoning.