In The Politics of Autism, I explain prevalence and talk of an "autism epidemic." I also analyze the issue's role in presidential campaigns. In this campaign, a number of posts discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. He also has a bad record on science and disability issues more generally.
On Tuesday, Trump spoke of autism: "... a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase."
While the principal correctly answered Trump’s question, saying approximately 1 in 68 people are diagnosed with autism, it’s important to note a higher rate of autism doesn’t necessarily mean more children are on the spectrum. It means more children are being diagnosed – something the medical community is able to do better now than it could decades ago when autism rates were reportedly lower. Trump saying an increase is “a horrible thing to watch,” also demeans the autism community, implying that having more people on the autism spectrum is a horrible thing.At The Washington Post, Michelle Ye Hee Lee gives Trump a Three-Pinocchio lie rating:
About one in 68 children in the country has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
The rate in the 2016 report was the same as it was in 2014 — and the definition for autism was broadened in 2013.
The CDC said it is not yet clear if the 2016 mean autism rates are stabilizing. CDC data show the rate of autism increased since 2000, when about one in 150 children were identified with autism spectrum disorder.
But it’s problematic to compare autism rates over the last three decades, because the criteria for diagnosing autism have changed with revisions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). In 1983, the criteria for “autistic disorder” were more restrictive. More disorders were added since then, broadening the range of disorders that now meet the definition of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the Autism Science Foundation, a nonprofit that supports autism research and raising awareness of the disorder.
“Due to inconsistencies in diagnosis and how much we are still learning about autism, the most recent DSM (DSM 5) only has one diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which encompasses each of the previous four disorders,” according to the foundation. DSM 5 was released in 2013.Laurel Raymond writes at ThinkProgress:
Trump’s claim of a “tremendous increase” in autism rates isn’t backed up by the data — but it is a favorite talking point of the anti-vaccine movement, which the president just broadcast on the highest stage.
The point is compelling on a surface level, because it’s based on a rise in diagnoses of autism since the 1990s. Experts, however, point out that a raise in diagnoses does not necessarily correlate with a raise in actual rates.
Anti-vaxxers, however, often push the uncorroborated claim that there has been such an increase — and point to vaccines as the culprit. That bogus link originated in the 1990s in a now-thoroughly discredited scientific report. The article was officially retracted after it became clear that the conclusion was based on shoddy research and manipulated data. Still, the debunked link between vaccines and autism has persisted ever since.