It seems that the worrying numbers are slightly skewed and open to interpretation as autism diagnoses are on the rise, but not patient numbers. The statistics have worried the population worldwide, fearing that there might be more to the neurodegenerative condition which has seen a dramatic increase over the years.
However, the problem may not be that more cases of autism occur every day, but that the very definition of the disorder itself has been changed with advancement in diagnostic tools and discovery of new symptoms.
Forty years ago, in 1975, only 1 in 5,000 children were diagnosed with autism. The numbers saw a frightening increase to 1 in 150 by 2002 and then a downright terrifying statistic of 1 in 68 in 2012. This has led to a number of debates of what may be causing autism, with blame being infamously tossed on the development of modern vaccines or unhealthy, synthetically made food.
Researchers at Penn State University state that the problem is not that autism has become more widely spread, but that the criteria within which we define the disorder has broadened, thus leading to more diagnoses.
The study used data conducted by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which followed an average of 6.2 million children enrolled in special education classes and schools between 2000 and 2010. The percentage rose as far as a whopping 331% during tracked last decade.
However, roughly 65% of the cases diagnosed with autism can simply be explained the fact that the definition has changed and what we once called “intellectual disability” has now transformed to “autism”. The advancements of finding more symptoms and manifestations of the disorder has led reports down a misleading path in the last ten years.
The rise in autism numbers is blamed on the reassignment of the diagnoses in 59% of cases of 9-year olds and an even bigger 97% for children diagnosed by the age of 15. The problem roots in the fact that every patient might show different signs and can be more easily categorized in the now broader branch of autism with the discovering of related disorders.
The statistics can therefore be deceiving and some researchers call into question the validity of a good number of reports, claiming that “period follow ups” that might lead to a different label to the disorder should be taken into consideration.
Image source: medicalnewstoday.com