It seems that with the rise of awareness of autism, the rate of diagnosis of the disorder is ever increasing. In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported that nearly 1 in 150 children have autism; in 2009, the numbers rose to 1 in 110.
According to the Schafer Autism Report, the number of instances of autism in Indiana is on the rise. In 2009, reports from the Indiana Department of Education accounted a rate of 1 in 101 children are diagnosed with autism. In 2011, nearly 12 in 1,000 students in Indiana were diagnosed, and the rate increased in 2012 to 1 in 83. The actual rate could be higher, as this data does not include children who are not a part of special education programs — those with an IEP or other special education plan are included.
Experts are uncertain as to why the number of cases of autism continues to increase every year. Awareness of the disorder is multiplying, and the ability of medical professionals to better define and understand autism is expanding. Experts do not know if the rise in cases is due to an actual increase in autism or just our ability to define and diagnosis it. The definition of autism continues to expand to encompass more individuals, and it covers an enormous range of abilities and needs.
While the number of cases of autism in Indiana is particularly high, many states are seeing a similar trend. Hypotheses of vaccinations or diet choices causing autism have been discredited in the research community, and many people believe the high numbers to be due to “over-diagnosis.” Some behaviors, even slight obsessions or social awkwardness, are often diagnosed immediately as autism.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University suggests a different theory. Autism is prevalent amongst older Caucasian parents with a wealthy background. Professor Baron-Cohen’s theory states that these people with “systemizing” personalities — or those likely to become doctors, engineers, or computer experts — have children with a genetically-magnified “male brain,” which increases the likelihood of a child with autism. These kind of parents are often intelligent, while being slightly obsessive or perfectionists, and they are also often awkward in social situations — these characteristics are some of the qualities of individuals with autism.
Additionally, over the last 100 years, women have become more driven to collegiate study, and the combination of a systemizing mother and father could increase the possibility of autism.
Photo by Guillaume Paumier