Why Is Autism Increasing Dramatically
Let us start by reiterating some facts about autism.
- Multiple large-scale studies have established, with adequate proof, that vaccines do not cause autism.
- Autism does not develop due to bad parenting choices.
- Autistic spectrum disorders are not contagious.
Although the number of children diagnosed with autism has steadily increased over the last few years, this is not because more children develop autism now than before.
Experts cite the following reasons to explain the rise in autism cases in recent years.
ASD includes a broad spectrum of disorders with following symptoms, thus accommodating more kids under the title of autism.
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Getting To The Causes Of Autism
Getting to the cause — or, more accurately, causes — of autism will be more difficult than unraveling the causes of cancer, says Gary Goldstein, MD, president and CEO of Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, a facility that helps children with autism and other developmental disorders.
“This is harder than cancer because in cancer you can biopsy it you can see it on an X-ray,” Goldstein says. “We don’t have a blood test . There is no biomarker, no image, no pathology.”
“There won’t be one single explanation,” says Marvin Natowicz, MD, PhD, a medical geneticist and vice chairman of the Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
“There’s been a lot of progress in the last few years in terms of understanding the causes of autism,” Natowicz says. “We know a lot more than we did.” Still, he says, research has a long way to go. “One number you see often is that about 10% of those with autism have a definitive diagnosis, a causative condition.” The other 90% of cases are still a puzzle to the experts.
Often, a child with autism will have a co-existing problem, such as a seizure disorder, depression, anxiety, or gastrointestinal or other health problems. At least 60 different disorders — genetic, metabolic, and neurologic — have been associated with autism, according to a report published in The New EnglandJournal of Medicine.
On one point most agree: A combination of genetics and environmental factors may play a role. Scientists are looking at both areas.
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Focusing On Early Diagnosis
Now, researchers have turned much of their attention to identifying autism in children as early as possible in hopes of intervening sooner with therapies to try to alter the developmental trajectory of their young brains. While skilled practitioners can diagnose autism in toddlers at 18 to 24 months of age with some research indicating there are detectable signs in babies as young as 6 months most kids arent diagnosed until age 4.
Katarzyna Chawarska, a professor of child psychiatry who leads Yale Universitys Autism Center of Excellence in New Haven, Connecticut, is studying signs of autism in babies. The reason why we are focusing so much on early diagnosis is that it is our hope that by intervening early, we can capitalize on still tremendous brain plasticity that is present in the first, second, third year of life, she said.
The goal, Chawarska said, is to help alleviate the symptoms and make sure that every child with autism reaches their full potential.
If youre trying to get rid of autism, youre trying to get rid of us.
Doctors, for instance, would like to minimize any intellectual disabilities and help patients communicate better and improve socials skills. They also want to quickly identify and address any medical conditions that often accompany autism, such as seizures, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and anxiety.
Why Is Autism Increasing So Much
Youve probably seen the Autism Speaks ads: Every two seconds a child is diagnosed with autism. As I write this today, the CDC has determined that 1 in a 54 people or 2% of males has an autism spectrum disorder !1Ever since Bob Wright, former president of NBC, became the grandfather of a child with autism and created Autism Speaks, awareness of and research on the condition has skyrocketed. Given this prevalence, you probably know someone who has a child with an ASD.
Welcome to my world. I am a developmental and behavioral pediatrician who has specialized, over the last 30 years, in caring for, diagnosing, and helping literally thousands of children and adolescents with ASD.
Over this time, my patients and their families have taught me so much about what it means to both struggle and grow and accept what cant be changed. I have learned to see through the eyes of the differently abled and their families. I have been witness to the miraculous potential within many of these children and adolescents who become fully functional and even indistinguishable from their peers . Recent research has found that the child with autism who receives intensive early intervention can outgrow their diagnosis.2 In my practice, I have many children who, over time, no longer met the official criteria for an autism spectrum disorder.
with lilacs. The last descendant.
J Child Psychol Psychiatry.JAMA Psychiatry.
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Research Early Signs And Treatment
Theres been widespread controversy about a possible connection between vaccines and the soaring autism rates. Some parents of children whose autistic symptoms first appeared shortly after their measles-mumps-rubella immunization are convinced the shot was the cause, but repeated studies have failed to find scientific evidence. Although one small, heavily publicized British study published in 1998 suggested a link, 10 of the 13 authors publicly retracted the findings in March 2004, saying they were unreliable. The study, lead by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, only studied a small sample of 12 kids, eight of whom were diagnosed with autism. By early 2010, the same British journal, The Lancet, that published his findings retracted his study and in January 2011, the British Medical Journal publicly denounced Dr. Wakefields research as fraudulent. The British Medical Journal announced that Dr. Wakefield had falsified data and tampered with his research results to give the MMR vaccine bad publicity. At the time of his study, Dr. Wakefield had been involved in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine and would have gained money if hed won, making his research an obvious conflict of interest.
Will Diagnoses Of Autism Continue To Increase
There is no way to know for sure if autism rates will continue to rise. As diagnostic criteria evolve, it could lead to either more or fewer children being qualified for an autism diagnosis.
Some experts, for example, expected a decline in autism diagnoses once Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS were eliminated as catch-all options. Others expected an increase as awareness and services improve. For now, the number and rate of children diagnosed with autism continue to rise.
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Kids Are Getting Diagnosed Sooner
Theres no laboratory or medical test for detecting autism, so doctors must rely on behavioral signs. In the past, many were reluctant to label a child as autistic until symptoms became obvious. The average age for diagnosis had been about 3.5, with many children diagnosed much later, says Amy Wetherby, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. But thats changing.
One reason is that pediatricians are becoming more aware of autism. At the same time, autism specialists are better at identifying early telltale signs such as a lack of babbling or pointing. Most children with autism will show some signs of developmental disruption by their first birthday, says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., an autism researcher at Baltimores Kennedy Krieger Institute.
And while no one is yet diagnosing autism in children that young, doctors can now make a reliable assessment by 24 months when a childs brain is still rapidly developing. If we can intervene while a childs brain is very immature, it will be much easier to help change her behavior, Dr. Wetherby says.
How Is Autism Spectrum Disorder Treated
There is no cure for autism, but treatment can make a big difference. The younger kids are when they start treatment, the better.
Doctors, therapists, and special education teachers can help kids learn to talk, play, and learn. Therapists also help kids learn about making friends, taking turns, and getting along.
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Boys With Autism Related Disorders Have High Levels Of Growth Hormones
Boys with autism and autism spectrum disorder had higher levels of hormones involved with growth in comparison to boys who do not have autism, reported researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Cincinnati Childrens Hospital and the University Of Cincinnati College Of Medicine.
The researchers believe that the higher hormone levels might explain the greater head circumference seen in many children with autism. Earlier studies had reported that many children with autism have very rapid head growth in early life, leading to a proportionately larger head circumference than children who do not have autism.
The researchers found that, in addition to a larger head circumference, the boys with autism and autism spectrum disorder who took part in the current study were heavier than boys without these conditions.
The study authors have uncovered a promising new lead in the quest to understand autism, said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that funded the study. Future research will determine whether the higher hormone levels the researchers observed are related to abnormal head growth as well as to other features of autism.
Autism is a complex developmental disorder that includes problems with social interaction and communication. The term autism spectrum disorder refers to individuals who have a less severe form of autism.
Why Autism Seems To Cluster In Some Immigrant Groups
Cultural barriers lead clinicians to misdiagnose or miss children with autism in immigrant communities.
Around 2 p.m. on a perfect summer afternoon in 2014, the clinicians arrived at Maki Gboros home in Denver, Colorado, to test his 18-month-old son Baraka for autism. The family had only recently moved to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo: Gboro came first, in 2009. His wife Odile Nabunyi arrived in 2013 with their two sons. They later had a third child, but at the time, Baraka was the youngest.
Gboro and Nabunyi sat on a sofa in the living room of their apartment and watched as the women from a community health clinic offered the toddler various objects. The womens goal was to observe how Baraka would play with the objects standard protocol for an autism evaluation. But the protocol seemed geared toward a child with a typical American upbringing. There was a pretend birthday cake, but Baraka had not yet been to an American birthday party. They gave him a plastic bag of Cheerios, the popular American breakfast cereal, but a typical breakfast in the Congo and in Gboros household is cheese, bread and milk, or sometimes porridge. And there was an African interpreter, too, but he spoke an unfamiliar French dialect and gave the boy instructions with words his parents never used. Sometimes, the clinicians spoke directly to Baraka in English, which he didnt understand at all.
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A Child Development Professional Believes Some Children Are Being Misdiagnosed
Why are so many more children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders than 20 years ago?
Galway-based consultant speech and language therapist Karen OConnor suggests its time to progress the conversation nationally and internationally about this autism epidemic.
Although there have been many studies on the epidemiology of ASD internationally, uncertainty remains about the true prevalence of ASD globally. The World Health Organisation estimates that one in 160 children has an ASD, but some well-controlled studies have reported figures as high as one in 59 children.
Autism spectrum disorders are a range of related developmental disorders that begin in childhood and persist throughout adulthood. ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, including problems and difficulties with social interaction impaired language and communication skills and unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour. Boys are three to four times more likely to develop an ASD than girls.
Based on epidemiological studies conducted over the past two decades, the prevalence of ASD does appears to be increasing globally. However, some experts argue that the rise in the number of diagnosed cases does not necessarily mean that the condition is becoming more widespread, but may be due to improved awareness, expansion of the diagnostic criteria, better diagnostic tools and improved reporting.
Who Are These Radical Scientists
Independent, decentralized biomedical research has come of age. Also sometimes called DIYbio, biohacking, or community biology, depending on whom you ask, open research is today a global movement with thousands of members, from scientists with advanced degrees to middle-grade students. Their motivations and interests vary across a wide spectrum, but transparency and accessibility are key to the ethos of the movement. Teams are agile, focused on shoestring-budget R& D, and aim to disrupt business as usual in the ivory towers of the scientific establishment.
Ethics oversight is critical to ensuring that research is conducted responsibly, even by biohackers.
Initiatives developed within the community, such as Open Insulin, which hopes to engineer processes for affordable, small-batch insulin production, Slybera, a provocative attempt to reverse engineer a $1 million dollar gene therapy, and the hundreds of projects posted on the collaboration platform Just One Giant Lab during the pandemic, all have one thing in common: to pursue testing in humans, they need an ethics oversight mechanism.
These groups, most of which operate collaboratively in community labs, homes, and online, recognize that some sort of oversight or guidance is usefuland that its the right thing to do.
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Brains Of People With Autism Show Altered Growth With Age
Suzanne Tucker /Shutterstock.comRevealing scans: People with autism miss out on the steady increase in whole brain volume that typically occurs throughout childhood.
Several brain regions in people with autism become enlarged earlier than usual during childhood and shrink too soon during adulthood, finds a study published 7 November in Autism Research1.
The study used magnetic resonance imaging to track brain volume in 100 males with autism and 56 controls, all ranging in age from 3 to 35 years, over an eight-year span.
Total brain volume in boys with autism tends to be larger than that of controls before age 10. This difference fades between ages 10 and 15, as brain volume in controls increases. After this period, controls continue to show gains in brain volume until their mid-20s, whereas the brains of people with autism begin shrinking.
People with autism miss the increase in brain volume in those younger years, says lead investigator Nicholas Lange, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Universitys McLean Hospital. That coincides with the transition into adulthood, which is particularly challenging for some people with the disorder. They are faced with new demands, and they have less brain resources to deal with that, Lange says.
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There Will Be An Even Larger Increase In 2020
The biannual announcement in 2018 of yet another increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder has practically become a new rite of spring.
At the start of the millennium, the rate of ASD reported by the US Centers for Disease Control was 1 in 150 and this rate remained steady for 2002. Then, starting in 2004, there have been increases announced every two years: 1 in 125 in 2004, 1 in 110 in 2006, 1 in 88 in 2008, 1 in 68 in 2010 and 2012.
Last week, the data for 2014 were announced, with another increase to 1 in 59. It is noteworthy that the CDC prevalence data are based on 8-year-old children, so that the 2014 data are for children born in 2006.
What in the world is going on? Why do the reported rates of autism keep rising? And, will they keep rising despite new programs designed to detect and treat it at increasingly younger ages?
Although scientists have not yet discovered what causes autism, a number of proposed causes have been disproven. For example, the popularized view that MMR vaccines cause autism is no longer a tenable “cause” and the article originally presenting the vaccines cause autism discovery by Andrew Wakefield was withdrawn under scandalous circumstances.,
Despite this, the view that vaccines cause autism persists and some point to the rise in autism as a reason to fear vaccinations. And, of course, the rate of autism keeps increasing.
Why Are Autism Rates Steadily Rising
Stefania Sterling with her son Charlie, who was diagnosed at age 3 with autism.
Stefania Sterling was just 21 when she had her son, Charlie. She was young and healthy, with no genetic issues apparent in either her or her husband’s family, so she expected Charlie to be typical.
“It is surprising that the prevalence of a significant disorder like autism has risen so consistently over a relatively brief period.”
It wasn’t until she went to a Mommy and Me music class when he was one, and she saw all the other one-year-olds walking, that she realized how different her son was. He could barely crawl, didn’t speak, and made no eye contact. By the time he was three, he was diagnosed as being on the lower functioning end of the autism spectrum.
She isn’t sure why it happened and researchers, too, are still trying to understand the basis of the complex condition. Studies suggest that genes can act together with influences from the environment to affect development in ways that lead to Autism Spectrum Disorder . But rates of ASD are rising dramatically, making the need to figure out why it’s happening all the more urgent.
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“It is surprising that the prevalence of a significant disorder like autism has risen so consistently over a relatively brief period,” said Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who was involved in collecting the data.
Searching for Answers
A Polarizing Theory
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