Is There Really an Autism Epidemic? A closer look at the statistics suggests something more than a simple rise in incidence

By Scott O. Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz, Scientific American December 2007

If the statistic “one in 166” has a familiar ring, perhaps that’s because you recently heard it on a television commercial or read it in a magazine. According to widely publicized estimates, one in 166 is now the proportion of children who suffer from autism. This proportion is astonishingly high compared with the figure of one in 2,500 that autism researchers had accepted for decades. Across a mere 10-year period—1993 to 2003—statistics from the U.S. Department of Education revealed a 657 percent increase in the nationwide rate of autism.

Not surprisingly, these bewildering increases have led many researchers and educators to refer to an “autism epidemic.” Representative Dan Burton of Indiana also declared in 2001 that “we have an epidemic on our hands.” But what’s really going on? {read more}

The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know

By David Wolman, WIRED MAGAZINE: 16.03

The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who’s shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?

But then the words “A Translation” appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn’t speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what’s going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions. In a synthesized voice generated by a software application, she explains that touching, tasting, and smelling allow her to have a “constant conversation” with her surroundings. These forms of nonverbal stimuli constitute her “native language,” Baggs explains, and are no better or worse than spoken language. Yet her failure to speak is seen as a deficit, she says, while other people’s failure to learn her language is seen as natural and acceptable.

And you find yourself thinking: She might have a point. {read more}