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Autism - an Epidemic?

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Introduction

All across the world the numbers of autistic people seem to be rising, the media and some scientists say that we are in the midst of an 'autism epidemic'. Studies from California show huge rises in the numbers of people diagnosed with autism today, than compared with the past. Presently however, there is great disagreement as to whether this is true. In this report I will be discussing what autism actually is, the possible causes of autism and whether there is an 'autism epidemic', or if there are other factors that have lead to the apparent increase in the numbers of autistic people. Contents Page What is Autism 1 What Causes Autism? 2 Are the numbers of autistic people rising? 4 Other Factors that could be Responsible for the Rise 5 Conclusion 6 Are Cases of Autism set to rise in the Future? 6 Autism - An Epidemic? What is Autism? As defined by the National Autistic Society: 'Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.' The 'symptoms' or identifying features of Autism usually surface in childhood, at around three years of age; and as a lifelong disability it will continue into adulthood. Autism is diagnosed by the use of a spectrum, ranging from high functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome, to very severe cases of autism. ...read more.

Middle

Refrigerator mother syndrome In the 1940's until about 10 years ago, parents of autistic children were blamed for the condition their children had. Refrigerator mother syndrome stemmed from the theory that cold, unloving parents caused autistic behaviour (8). However, research into the theory suggested that many of the 'cold unloving parents' displayed autistic tendencies themselves, suggesting a more genetic link. Nowerdays, parents are no longer blamed for the condition their children have. Hours spent watching television as a child A very recent and controversial study in America showed correlation between the hours that young people spent watching television and autism. (9) (3) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508429 (4) http://autism.about.com/od/causesofautism/a/genetics.htm (5) The Autism myth New Scientist 13th August 2005 Pages (37-40) (6) http://autism.about.com/od/causesofautism/a/dovaccines_2.htm (7) http://autism.about.com/od/causesofautism/a/AutismBrain.htm (8) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator_mother (9) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article609164.ece (10) http://www.channel4.com/health/microsites/M/mmr/index.html (11) http://www.chekinstitute.com/articles.cfm?select=66 Are the numbers of autistic people rising? An epidemic is known as a widespread disease that simultaneously affects large numbers of people in a population. There is evidence to suggest that there has been a rise in the cases of autism (see Graph A). Psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Kanner made the the first diagnoses of autism in 1943. Since then, the numbers diagnosed with autism have steadily increased. (?) However is this rise due to some genetic or environmental factor or is there evidence to show that something else is responsible for the rising numbers? Graph A shows that in California the cases of autism have significantly increased, most noticeably between 1998 and 2002. ...read more.

Conclusion

(5) (5) The Autism myth New Scientist 13th August 2005 Pages (37-40) Conclusion As the cause of autism is not yet known it is very difficult to pinpoint if there is an epidemic. I personally believe that there is a genetic component to autism and thus I think that the cases could not have been able to rise in such proportions due to a genetic factor. Also the environmental factors that people argue have caused the epidemic are all theory, whereas diagnostic criteria has changed and there is more support and awareness for Autism. Ultimately scientists will need a few more years of data before they can confirm either way if there is an autism epidemic Are Cases of Autism set to rise in the Future? If there really is an autism epidemic you would expect the cases to keep rising until autism is either cured or the trigger responsible for causing the surge in cases was found. Equally if the increase in cases of autism is just down to better diagnosis and awareness the rate of increase would begin to level off. Interestingly, last year the Child Development Centre actually noticed a small drop in the number of diagnoses (13). On the one had this could be just a slightly anomalous figure, however it provides a strong argument for the people who believed that mercury in vaccines was causing the autism epidemic. When Thimerosal was used the cases grew; now most vaccines do not contain Thimerosal the number of diagnoses are decreasing. (13) http://autism.about.com/od/causesofautism/p/ontherise.htm ?? ?? ?? ?? Page 1 05/03/2008 ...read more.

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