I am currently working on a longer piece for Autism Awareness Month. Diagnostic meaning, environment, conspiracy theories, what Ian Hacking would call “making up people” – all of this plays into my interest of how we, as a society, make sense of difference. What do the stories we tell ourselves about physical, intellectual, and/or physiological difference reveal about collective anxieties, fears, and aspirations? What might they tell us about shifting notions of the good life? How do these forces intersect with bodies, medical knowledge, and beliefs in daily life? And what, really, can we do with such knowledge? These are heady, but important, questions and they highlight the potential contributions for anthropology to inform understandings of difference, disability, and health.
For now, take a look at three sets of data. The first chart (found here) is a striking snapshot of increasing rates of autism diagnoses in the last decade. The second one (located here) breaks down the racial makeup of U.S. children with autism. The third chart, courtesy of the NIMH, looks at autism diagnoses in terms of both race and gender. Do keep in mind that these data are superficial, in that they say nothing about the functioning level of the individuals in question (e.g., if they are considered to have intellectual disabilities), which is a critical component of the racial and also gender disparities with Autism Spectrum Disorders.