In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the controversy surrounding diagnosis of autism and estimates of its prevalence.
In 1999, the state of California was in shock: baffling even the most seasoned of authorities, autism cases in the developmental services system had spiked from about 4,000 in 1987 to about 13,000 cases in 1998.
As it turns out, that was just a hint of what lay ahead: today, the Department of Developmental Services counts nearly 10 times that, more than 122,000 autism cases.
Back to the data, here’s more background Californians need to know:
Alarmed by the lack of public reporting on autism growth, last month Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area called for a California Autism Reporting Program from the California Department of Public Health.
- The Department of Developmental Services identifies only 451 current autism cases from birth year 1984 (they will turn 36 this year), compared to 7,273 cases for birth year 2014, who will turn 6 this year. This is a 16-fold increase, with hundreds more born that year still expected to seek admittance. Worryingly, this upward trend shows no signs of abating.
- Autism represented 5% of overall DDS cases in 1993, but now occupies nearly 40%. Disability service providers have been struggling to serve the autism wave, with its qualitatively different, and often more challenging, characteristics.
- The California Department of Public Health has found a 10-fold increase in prevalence from .11% for 1987 births to 1.1% for 2013 births. Unpublished data indicate it is now closer to 1.4%. These numbers should dispel any notion that population growth or immigration is driving the autism increase.
- California Special Education autism cases have also skyrocketed, from 14,038 cases in 1990 to 120,089 in 2018, an 8.5-fold increase. This autism spike has been fueling the need for ever-larger special education budgets across the state.
It is the least the state could do. These details, including levels of impairment lurking beneath the numbers, and the projected needs and costs for housing and services, are absolutely necessary if we are to responsibly find solutions for this burgeoning, vulnerable population.