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Autism: Misconceptions, Misapplications and Miscommunications

Category: Blogger's Corner, Research, disease, vaccines, diagnosis, psychologist

Autism: Misconceptions, Misapplications & Miscommunications

Autism is a fascinating field of research – with so few conclusively answered questions about the condition, numerous scientists are currently attempting to find a single, conclusive reason for autism. With so many ‘origin stories’ battling it out for recognition, it can be easy for people to be confused by research which claims to provide clarity, but actually only muddies the waters. With that in mind, here are a few myths to look out for:

  1. We are in the middle of an ‘Autism Epidemic’

The rapid increase of diagnosis rates for autism and ASDs in the recent past have led many – including psychologists and academics – to speculate that the prevalence of autism is hugely increasing and will continue to do so. Some go so far as to claim that 50% of all children will be autistic by 2025, and that 50% of girls will be autistic by 2040. Such claims are deeply flawed; they look at the recent rate of increase and assume it will stay static into the future.

And they ignore that much of the increase is due to better understanding of autism, with resulting changes to diagnosis criteria (in 1994, around the time the “epidemic” started, the DSM-IV brought out a new and wider criteria which meant many previously misdiagnosed with conditions like Schizophrenia were able to receive a correct ASD diagnosis). They also fail to take into account the large number of adult diagnoses of autism/ASD – people who were children when psychologists were less aware of autism, and who went undiagnosed as a result – which point to autistic people being far less understood and visible in the past, but still present. (And lastly, the term “epidemic” is rather insulting – it suggests autism is a curable illness, when it most certainly isn’t).

  1. There has been absolutely no increase in the real rate of autism

Others argue there has been no real rise in autism over the past 30-40 years, with this rise entirely due to better/wider diagnosis. But no study has found the rise is 100% attributable to this; rather, most find it about 60-70% applicable. There has been a rise, though much smaller than assumed, in real autism cases; but, far from being caused by genetically modified food, vaccines, circumcision (yes, someone really did propose this!), Lyme Disease, or whatever else in in fashion at the time, many scientists believe this is largely for genetic reasons.

One convincing theory holds that since autism affects social communication and social isolation, autistic people used to find it a lot harder to find others like them to date, with the overwhelming majority in older generations being unmarried and single. Due to modern technology, particularly internet forums and online dating, they now can, meaning their children – having two autistic, or autistic-like, parents – are more likely to inherit the condition.

  1. The autism increase is all down to genetics and inheritance

But, again, this does not explain all increases of autism – family studies have shown several interesting results, such as a lower fraternal twin concordance rate than identical twins and the fact that several parents of autistic children are non-autistic (though they may well be autistic but undiagnosed, and/or tend to have sub-threshold autism traits), which suggest the rise is not entirely down to heredity – or, if it is, inheritance of autism works in very complex ways. As for what causes these remaining cases? Nobody really knows for sure – there are still a lot of questions about autism which need to be answered, and the case is far from closed. And with research now suggesting that there are many different ‘autisms’, each with different origins but united by similar-looking symptoms/traits, no clear answer is in sight.

The belief that autism can be easily explained, in its entirety, is just another myth itself – be wary of anyone who claims they can conclusively prove what causes every single case. The rate of autism has increased, but only slightly; and there’s no real reason to assume it will carry on indefinitely, particularly not given the DSM-V’s more stringent ASD definitions. But to become too preoccupied with this is counterproductive anyway – it’s far more worthwhile to focus on how autistic people can be better integrated into society, and how to best utilise their talents, than worrying about where autism comes from!

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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