by Mark Blaxill
Even as the autism toll passes a million children and the cost soars to a trillion dollars, a pernicious idea is taking hold: There simply is no autism epidemic.
The implications are enormous. Is autism ancient, a genetic variation that begs only for overdue acceptance and acknowledgment? Or is it recent and growing, the frightening product of something toxic to which our children are succumbing?
We believe autism is new and the rate really has risen dramatically. “Autism is a public health crisis of historic proportions,” one of us testified to a congressional committee in December 2012. Therefore, we as a nation face an obligation to take urgent action against an epidemic of disability that too many “experts” won’t acknowledge, don’t take seriously, or simply deny. They are flat earthers for the new millennium. We call them Epidemic Deniers. They do nothing but confuse the facts about a clear-cut, man-made catastrophe and, unconscionably, delay the day of reckoning and response.
Today a million and more Americans, almost all of them under 30, have been formally diagnosed with autism. Yes, it is a spectrum disorder, but variation should not confuse the issue. Most with an autism diagnosis will never be employed, pay taxes, fall in love, get married, have children, or be responsible for their health and welfare. Both the increase and the burden it imposes are widely recognized by thousands of parents and frontline professionals like nurses and teachers. Yet some of the most prominent and powerful people in medicine, the media, and government deny it.
Rejecting this reality is itself a kind of disorder—Epidemic Denial. It is a little like bug-eyed Marty Feldman as a hunchback in Young Frankenstein, responding to Gene Wilder’s Count Frankenstein with the indignant, “What hump?” It’s the Big Lie about autism.
While autistic traits may always have been part of the human profile, their severity and ubiquity have not, and the disability of those with autism is what keeps the vast majority at the margins of society.
Even the Centers for Disease Control, charged with determining the autism rate, is blandly agnostic. “Is there an ASD [autism spectrum disorder] epidemic?” the agency asks on its autism page. “A: More people than ever before are being diagnosed with an ASD. It is unclear exactly how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASD and better efforts in diagnosis. However, a true increase in the number of people with an ASD cannot be ruled out. We believe the increase in the diagnosis of ASD is likely due to a combination of these factors.”
Mark Blaxill is the co-author of Denial: How Refusing to Face the Facts About Our Autism Epidemic Hurts Children, Families and Our Future, among other books. He will be speaking at The Real Truth About Health Conference, which will be held Feb. 2-11, 2018, at the Long Island Hilton, in Melville (RealTruthTalks.com).