Since my son was diagnosed with Autistic Disorder in 1998 the rates of diagnosed autism have risen dramatically from 1 in 500 to the current estimated rate of 1 in 88. There is common acknowledgement that a substantial increase resulted from the DSM-IV changes which pushed acceptance of Aspergers as part of an autism spectrum. Social factors such as increased awareness and availability of services under an autism label have also been cited. Some purported autism experts though have concluded that the dramatic autism increases are entirely attributable to diagnostic changes, increased awareness and the desirability for service reasons of an autism diagnosis. One such autism expert is Behavior Analyst Steve Taylor who proclaims in the Modesto Bee that "Autism isn't spreading, but the diagnosis is".
The dramatic increases have also taken place during years when genetic autism research received an overwhelming share of the autism research dollar. Calls for increased funding for environmental autism research by respected researchers like Hertz-Picciotto, Pessah, Landrigan, Birnbaum and others have not tilted the balance dramatically away from the "its gotta be genetic mindset". No study proving that the overwhelming increase in autism disorders is caused entirely by diagnostic change and increased social awareness has been produced. No study producing a genetic explanation for all or even a significant number of autism disorders has been produced. Very few environmental autism studies have been funded compared to genetic studies and yet the Steve Taylors of the expert autism community claim that there is no real increase at all.
As they did with the refrigerator mothers theory of autism a few decades ago many of the world's autism "experts" embrace as an article of faith that autism isn't increasing. Once again too the finger is pointed, at least in part, at parents ..... this time it is parents seeking services for their children as stated by Taylor in the Modesto Bee:
"I'm still working with the same kind of kids, but everyone today seems to have autism. I met an area family for the first time recently and the 3-year-old I was there to help looked me in the eye and told me, "Go home." He's got autism, now.
No one can diagnose a complex disorder from a single interaction, but I'm going to spend months and maybe years working with this family to change behaviors that this rude boy would likely grow out of and, despite my best efforts, maybe make it worse.
For pure and understandable motives, parents still lobby for the diagnosis. An autism diagnosis brings more services.
The Stanislaus County Office of Education lists three pre-formal diagnostic (too young to diagnose) intensive classes of six to eight students as well as five elementary autism classes, which come with two full-time autism specialists.
A student with the same delays but not diagnosed as autistic doesn't usually get that kind of specialized support."
The only way Steve Taylor and the autism epidemic deniers could possibly be sure that the increases in autism rates are not real AT ALL is if autism disorders are not caused or contributed to by any environmental factors; that autism is entirely genetic in origin. Taylor is a true believer that autism is not increasing; that autism is 100% genetic in origin. For those of us who lack Taylor's brilliant insights into the causes of autism we will have to wait for studies that actually provide evidence in support of his belief that autism rates are not really increasing at all.