April 25, 2010 7:56
Many posts have included references to the increased prevalence of autism.
There are several aspects to the autistic disorders that make this question especially interesting. First, the autism "spectrum" refers to children with a wide range of ability and disability, and this is quite new.
If we compare the current estimates with those of even 20 years ago, before Asperger's Syndrome(AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA) were commonly described, we will of course see much higher rates of "autism" now. At the Asperger's Association of New England (AANE) where I have been on the board and am currently on the Executive Advisory Committee, we see a great number of adults come to us seeking help after a new diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Most have no previous diagnosis, but have had a lifetime of difficulties in educational, occupational, and social situations despite normal or above normal intelligence. These are not the autistics of 20 or 30 years ago, a good proportion of whom met criteria for a diagnosis of mental retardation, or intellectual disability, as we would call it today.
Thus, the widening of the "spectrum" contributes, at least to some degree, to the confusion about the numbers. There is little question in the minds of most developmental and behavioral pediatricians that terminology plays a part in the apparent increase in prevalence of autism.