From The Economist:
One reason for the apparent rise in autism across the rich world is growing awareness, says Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University. Some cases that used to be diagnosed as an “intellectual disability” or (in the bad old days) as “mental retardation” are now being recognised as autism, says Jennifer Stapel-Wax of Emory University’s Marcus Autism Centre. The proportion of people affected by autism appears much lower in poor countries. That is not necessarily because it is less common, but because of shortcomings in diagnosis and data collection, says Andy Shih of Autism Speaks, a charity.An accompanying editorial:
Medical understanding of the condition has improved since 1949, when the psychiatrist who first identified autism blamed cold, unloving mothers for making their children withdraw into themselves. Scientists today are sure that genes play a role, as do environmental factors. Still, many questions remain unanswered, both about the condition’s origin and its progression. The amount of public money spent studying autism is shockingly modest. Britain’s government spends a trivial £4m ($5.6m) a year. America shells out around $200m a year—about what it costs to look after 100 severely autistic people for a lifetime. Such sums are dwarfed by the opportunity cost of having so many potentially productive people dependent on others. Beautiful or otherwise, an autistic mind is a terrible thing to waste.