It is a thing like that about medical statistics regarding frequency of diseases. Mostly they are collected and published by organizations having a certain interest in keeping up the discussion about “their” disease. The consequence: There seems to be hardly any disease of which the frequency does not increase dramatically or remains on a high level as a matter of course.
Autism pandemic and the search for the culprit
Filial autism belongs in this category as well which is remarkable in so far as it is a generally recognized strongly genetic determined disease. Nonetheless professionals and laymen alike for years now keep talking about an autism pandemic which is supposedly pervasive for the last some twenty years. In a much debated publication in the professional magazine The Lancet, scientists of the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP) in Southern England have quantified this increase two years ago: According to that the autism quota multiplied by eight between the early eighties and the year 2006 from 5 of tenthousand to forty per tenthousand children. Ever since it appears adequate for many to talk about an autism pandemic. The zealotry of its occurrence varies. It is more pronounced in the Anglo-Saxon language area than in Central Europe, more pronounced in cultural critical environments than elsewhere. Consequently, measles and/or polyvalent vaccines, TV, the internet, computer games and the general pressure to perform are rated as those factors preferably attested a connection with the increase of autism as well. For all this, epidemiological studies are available also allegedly giving proof of it or suggesting it.
Doubts about the constancy of the diagnoses
And the epidemiologists were the ones to express their doubts already in 2003 regarding the thesis of an autism pandemic. There is an electronic interpretation of the “General Practice Research Database” in the UK, a research data base with pseudonymized patient data collected by family physicians. (By the way – why we don’t have something like that here in Germany?) Indeed this analysis shows an increase of autism diagnoses albeit coming along parallel to a decrease of the number of diagnoses of speech disorders. Such coherences are interesting but do not prove anything. Professor Dorothy Bishop at Oxford University and her team pf physicians made a bit more of an effort now in a study financed by the Wellcome Trust and took a look at the individual medical records of 38 adults whom were diagnosed with speech development disorders as children between 1986 and 2003. The results can be found in the April edition of the Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology magazine. The study was made only with people who participated in clinical studies at that time thus accordingly detailed records are available. Now the physicians restudied those files again and also examined the people again themselves. Lo and behold: At least every fourth of the patients would be classified autistic if today’s standards were applied. “Our study is a pretty direct proof that changing diagnosis criteria at least helped causing the increase of autism”, says Bishop. But she does not want to go out on a limb much further for now: “Due to the small number of patients we cannot claim that there could not be a genuine increase of autism as well”, the scientist carefully explains. So the culture pessimists still have some room until further notice.
Technology – a part of the solution?
That modern time with its technical blessings holds something for autistic children shows the good experience with technical “Gadgets” in this patient group. The Canadian rehabilitation hospital for children, Bloorview, recently reported about excellent experience with PDA, respectively Palmtop solutions used by autistic children for communication. This solution developed in Canada is backing on a mixture of picture selection and word entry where after entering the first few letters, it proposes several common words to make it easier for the child. The whole thing is linked up with a voice output. “The children start conversations with that which they would never have started without it”, as the Bloorview speech therapist Margaret Ettore observed.