Friday, March 30, 2012

Canada's Autism Epidemic? To Start With We Have to Use American Numbers 1in 88 Children, 1 in 54 Boys

Canada Flag Photo by Harold L Doherty

The CDC in the US has released new numbers on the autism epidemic in the US.  It now estimates that 1in 88 children (1 in 54 boys) have an autism disorder.  There are no known, reliable estimates available for Canada which has not updated its autism estimates in several years.  The Harper government has not taken Canada's national autism crisis seriously preferring to hide behind constitutional walls and leave the availability of treatment to an autistic child to depend on which province his/her parents live in.  

A National Autism Symposium was cancelled once the Harper government became aware that serous autism advocates were planning to participate.  The symposium was rescheduled and the resulting symposium was a sham. Speakers and so called  "community representatives" were chosen who would not take an aggressive advocacy position on any autism issues.  

The speakers list even included persistent anti-ABA activist Dr. Laurent Mottron who believes that the idea of curing autism is nonsense.  Mottron's mentor and fellow anti-ABA, anti-autism cure activist Michelle Dawson was also in attendance. Causes of autism stressed the genetic bases of autism with no attention to possible environmental causes or triggers.  The prevalance rate of 1 in 165 advanced by Dr. Eric Fombonne at that 2006 symposium is still the only figure recognized by the Harper government and by the Autism Society Canada

With the release of the United States CDC estimate of 1 in 88 Autism Speaks has called for a serious response to the autism epidemic:

Autism Speaks called for the development of a national autism action plan that should include, among other elements:

  • Increased funding for basic science uncovering the genetic underpinnings of autism;
  • Increased funding for environmental research detecting the causes of autism;
  • Accelerated funding and development of effective medicines and treatments;
  • Commitment to a strategy where all children with autism from every background are diagnosed no later than18 months of age;
  • Commitment to a National Training Corps to recruit more therapists and service providers, as well as specially trained teachers and teacher assistants;
  • A strategy to address the growing needs of adults with autism, specifically around continuing education, employment, housing/residential living and community integration.
The Autism Speaks recommendations are solid and, hopefully, will be adopted in the United States.  In Canada we can not realistically expect a serious response along those lines from our current Federal government.  That has been clearly demonstrated over the past several years of Harper Conservative rule.

In terms of the prevalence rate though it is absurd to rely  on the outdated figure of 1 in 165.   In the absence of any credible, current estimates from Canadian government institutions or from federal autism advocacy groups, the US figure of 1in 88 should be taken as the best available estimate of Canada's autism rates. 

We must also continue the push for national Medicare coverage of effective ABA autism treatment, for continued, real autism research of causes and cures, and for the beginnings of a plan for adult autism employment opportunities and adult residential care and treatment facilities.  

The US has stepped up to the plate, again, in offering meaningful, honest information about the autism epidemic.  Canada has long suffered from a lack of will that has allowed our autism epidemic to become a national autism crisis.   We must begin now working toward the day when a new national government is elected that will take our autism crisis seriously. 

In the meantime we should abandon the ridiculously outdated autism estimate of 1 in 165 and use the American estimates: 1 in 88 children, 1 in 54 boys. 

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