LATimes on the autism “epidemic”: “more a surge in diagnosis than in disease”

I haven’t had time to fine-tooth comb this long, Los Angeles Times piece on rising rates of autism, but this:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 1% of children across the country have some form of autism — 20 times the prevailing figure in the 1980s. The increase has stirred fears of an epidemic and mobilized researchers to figure out what causes the brain disorder and why it appears to be affecting so many more children. Two decades into the boom, however, the balance of evidence suggests that it is more a surge in diagnosis than in disease.

is clearly the takeaway. My research for The Panic Virus led me to conclude that the situation isn’t this clear-cut — that some significant portion, but not all, of the increase in cases is the result of changing diagnostic criteria/awareness…but I won’t have time to really go through this until tonight (or possibly early tomorrow).

Of course, the mere existence of this story will also be taken as evidence that the Times is, along with NBC News, The Wall Street Journal, Ben Goldacre, the British Medical Journal, myself, and countless others, part of the vast conspiracy trying to cover up the “truth” about the rise in autism and its causal connection to vaccines…

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2 Responses to LATimes on the autism “epidemic”: “more a surge in diagnosis than in disease”

  1. Matt Carey says:

    “some significant portion, but not all, of the increase in cases is the result of changing diagnostic criteria/awareness…”

    I think it is safe to say “some significant portion, but not all, of the increase in cases has been shown to be the result of changing diagnostic criteria/awareness, while much of the rest remains unaccounted for.”

    One open question is how does one quantify “awareness”? Prof. Peter Bearman has quantified some methods of “awareness”, as has Prof. Hertz-Picciotto. But, how do you quantify news articles, TV shows, bilboard ads and the like?

    Prof. Peter Bearman, who is quoted in the LA Times piece, has a paper out claiming that about 10% of the increase observed in the California Department of Developmental Services data do represent an increase in the actual number of autistics served. This is based on increased risk due to parental age and the increased average age of parents over time.

  2. RAJensen says:

    Matt;
    Increased parental age does increase (albeit slightly) autism (and schizophrenia) risk. But there are several questions that have been raised about increased parental age and increased autism risk (a) why hasn’t autism become extinct and (b) in the genetic syndromes associated with autism where do these mutations come from. Studying the consequences of genetic syndromes cannot ignore origins. All males and females generate sperm and egg mutations. Molina et al (2011) studied sperm mutations in healthy male volunteer donors focusing on three mutations identified in individuals with a genetic syndrome that also have high ASD risk. The three sperm mutations that were specifically examined were: 7q11.23 (Williams Syndrome), 15q11-13 (Prader-Willi Syndrome), Di George/velo-cardio-facial (22q11 deletion) syndrome and most genetic and epigenetic cases of Williams Syndrome, Prader-Willi Syndrome and 22q11 deletion Syndrome are de novo mutations in contrast to being inherited events..All three sperm mutations were sporadically found in the sperm of every volunteer donor. One marked difference between the human male and female is that there are many more germ line cell divisions in the life history of a sperm relative to that of an egg. Furthermore, the frequency of sperm mutation may increase with the age at which the sperm is produced. Sperm or egg mutations is explanatory of why monozygotic twins (MZ) are concordant and dizygotic (DZ) twins are discordant in Rett Syndrome and Downs Syndrome. These sperm (or egg) mutations are random events that can strike any family at any time without any discernible reason other than pure chance. This study raises significant questions about the common and perhaps false claim that autism is the most heritable of all the neurodevelopmental disorders

    This was not an autism research paper but rather a paper related to evolutionary biology and you won’t find this paper in PUBMED searches related to autism research. You might want to feature this paper in your left brain right brain blog. You can read the full text article here:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20931230

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