Week in Review: March 23-30

Rising Rates of Autism Diagnoses
The rising prevalence of autism diagnoses continues unabated, according to the March 28 Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report from the CDC.  Based on recent findings by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, one in 68 U.S. children now have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis.  Rates are significantly higher for boys than girls (one in 42 versus one in 189, respectively), and there are substantial racial disparities.  White children are much more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than either Hispanic or non-Hispanic black children, yet (no surprise here) are markedly less likely to be diagnosed as having both ASD and intellectual disability than their minority peers.  These disparities demand further research from social scientists and other scholars concerned with issues of power, race, and inequality.  You can read more on the new ASD numbers here, here, and here, and the CDC has even put together a digital press kit on autism.  Also, NPR offers an important reminder not to equate rising rates of diagnoses with an epidemic in autism spectrum disorders themselves.  The NYT has what looks to be a good piece on this subject, but I’ve been paywalled out of it for now.  (Anyone interested in the social world of diagnostic trends should check out Canadian philosopher Ian Hacking’s work, which offers important insights into the current autism “epidemic.”)

Conspiracy Theories
Every time I start to think that Americans are more intelligent and rational than I give them credit for, something brings me back to my sense.  I can always count on my fellow countrypeople for that.  According to a recent study by J. Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood, published in a JAMA Research Letter, nearly half of all Americans believe in at least one medical conspiracy theory and – get this – a full 20% believe that the government continues to push vaccines in children, despite its knowledge of a link between vaccinations and autism.  I’m actually scared to broach this subject with people I know for fear of what they might say.  Read more here, here, here, and here, but don’t forget that these liberal media sources are part of the problem!  Kidding.

Study Argues that Autism Begins During Pregnancy
A team of University of California researchers published a potentially and highly publicized piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Patches of Disorganization in the Neocortex of Children with Autism.”  The team examined the brain tissue of deceased children and youth with ASD and found significant atypical variations.  This study offers an important and apparently still much-needed counterpoint to the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination camp.  You can read the BBC’s coverage here.

More News

Although it might not surprise many of us, new data indicates that children with disabilities are more likely to be restrained, secluded, or passed on to law enforcement than their non-disabled peers.

California is currently experiencing its biggest measles outbreak in decades, prompting concerns about the reappearance of diseases that were deemed a thing of the past.

The Arc celebrated the close of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month with Let’s Go Out! on March 29th.  This was a day for people with disabilities and their families to enjoy public outings in their communities.  It saddens me that such an event is still necessary, but I applaud everyone who participated.


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