Yesterday, Trump spoke of autism: "... a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase."
In The Politics of Autism, I explain why the special-ed numbers increased:
In any policy area, the act of gathering data brings out cases. Counting may legitimize discussion of uncomfortable topics. It enables people with a condition to come forward as a group instead of solitary individuals. Official record-keeping opens a channel for reporting: once an organization announces that it is keeping count, people send it information. Such reactive effects are especially strong when benefits attach to membership in a category.
With a greater public awareness of general disability issues, and with the new language of IDEA, parents of autistic children began pressing local school districts to get their children into the system. Psychiatrist Allen Frances writes of a “positive feedback loop” between advocacy and the provision of services. As changes in diagnosis increased the population of identified autistic people and their families, they were better able to push for services, thereby increasing the number of people receiving such services.Andrew Freedman writes at Mashable:
Trump is right that autism rates have increased over the long-term, but this increase may be misleading on its surface, doctors warn.Rafi Letzter writes at Business Insider:
Research has shown an increase in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and a nearly three-fold increase in autism diagnoses in special education programs in the U.S. This may be why Quenneville reported the increase that she did.
However, the increase in autism cases may partly be explained by the reclassification of individuals that would previously have been diagnosed with other intellectual disabilities, according to a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics in 2015.
"For quite some time, researchers have been struggling to sort disorders into categories based on observable clinical features, but it gets complicated with autism because every individual can show a different combination of features" said Santhosh Girirajan, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and of anthropology at Penn State who was the lead author of that study, in a press release.
The notion that autism is on the rise is a talking point of the anti-vaccine movement — a group that believes parents shouldn't vaccinate their kids based on research from a fraudulent 1998 study.
Trump has referenced anti-vaxxer claims before. Here's a tweet from 2014:
More recently, Trump met with Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist who has published books about the alleged dangers of the treatment. He claims (without scientific evidence) that a cabal of scientists are poisoning children for profit by giving them vaccines. After his meeting with Donald Trump, Kennedy reportedly thought he'd be selected to chair a presidential panel on" vaccine safety and scientific integrity."
Andrew Wakefield, the author of the fraudulent 1998 study, also attended Trump's inaugural ball.
The recent opposition to vaccines has caused concern among scientists and medical professionals, since there's evidence that the movement has led to a measurable spike in measles outbreaks in the US. Measles can be fatal to children, as can pertussis and other ailments that vaccines prevent.
The estimated number of lives saved by childhood vaccinations measures in the hundreds of thousands.
At The Wall Street Journal, Damien Paletta points out that he pointed a finger at President Obama:
In 2012, he tweeted: Follow
He has also said he blames the administration of vaccines for the increase in autism.