Thursday, March 13, 2008

Autism Rising in Oregon

More than 7,000 Oregon students have autism, triple the count 10 years ago and 11 percent higher than just a year ago, the state reported Wednesday."

The Oregonian, March 13, 2008

Neurodiversity believers will automatically state that increases in autism in Oregon are due to changes in the definition, diagnostic criteria , and increased public awareness of autism disorders. They are partly correct in that such factors have occurred. And it is very reasonable to assume that such factors account for some of the increases in Oregon and elsewhere. But it is not reasonable to assume that the startling increases in autism disorder diagnoses is attributable entirely to definition change and social factors.

The belief that these increases are due entirely to changes in how we view autism is a faith based belief unsupported by credible studies or data. It amounts, without evidence, to a rejection of the possibility that environmental factors, not just thimerosal, but any environmental factors, are causing or contributing to the rise, across Canada, the US, and Europe to the startling increases in autism diagnoses. The presence of mercury, lead, aluminum, and a long list of chemicals and plastic components in our drinking water, and our environment generally, are ruled out as possible causes or contributing factors to the rise of autism.

The true believers of the neurodiversity movement are free to cling to their beliefs. I prefer to keep an open mind and, until more study is done, and more information is available, work on the assumption that the very dangerous substances in our environment might be having harmful effects on our children. Increases in autism disorder diagnoses might be one of those harmful consequences of our increasingly toxic environment.


jonathan said...

I am not a neurodiversity believer as you know, but I believe probably part of the rise is due to changes in diagnostic criteria. Also, changes in special education legislation and commercialization of ABA. Part of the increase may be due to parents having children at more advanced ages which is linked to autism. So far, nothing in the environment has been shown to be linked to autism as far as I know, though it is not unreasonable to pursue a line of research in that direction.
Thimerosal and vaccines, the favorite whipping boys, have no temporal relationship to autism increases. I have written about this: www.jonathans-stories.non-fiction/thimerosal.html If you are implying that a belief in neurodiversity and a belief that changes in diagnostic criteria, etc. are mutually inclusive you are wrong in my case and probably others also.

Unknown said...


I readily agree that changes in diagnostic criteria had undoubtedly played a significant role in the autism increases.

I have never been convinced of a causal effect from thimerosal or vaccines but I don't think the evidence is sufficient to rule them out entirely either.

I suspect environmental factors play a role but there is certainly no conclusive evidence for any specific substance.

Much research remains to be done. I try to keep an open mind as the research proceeds.

Maya M said...

Prevalence of autism is higher among children delivered prematurely or with complications. So I think it is also possible that some of today's autistic children simply wouldn't be alive 25 years ago.
I agree with Jonathan that there seems to be no real evidence in favour of thimerosal or any other vaccine component as cause of autism. I think that the wish to blame the vaccines tells something about the psyche of modern Western people.
Of course some environmental factor may contribute (as two or three drugs have been shown to do), but why does everyone look at vaccines and not at other environmental factors that have spread in recent decades? Such as e.g. soy in our food or cellular phones?

Ettina said...

I really wish you wouldn't portray 'neurodiversity believers' as all believing the same things.
Personally, I think it's increased diagnosis, but not all neurodiversity supporters believe this. For example, one theory I've heard is that more adult high functioning autistics are having children, particularly with other autistics, and therefore more autistic children are being born.

Unknown said...


I have no doubt that changes in diagnostic definitions with the DSM-IV resulted in a substantial increase. But it is simply assumption and belief to assert that there are no environmental factors at work. Research is continuing into genetic and possible environmental factors contributing to the startling increases in autism diagnoses.

As for neurodiversity opinion no group is likely to have 100% agreement on elements of its beliefs. But some basic elements have to mark a group or it is not a group at all. Neurodiversity advocates tend to the view that autism is just a natural variation with no environmental causes for that variation.