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Embargo? What embargo?

March 28th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Careless sourcing, Miseducation

An anti-vaccine group masquerading as an autism advocacy organization broke an embargo of the CDC’s latest autism prevalence numbers, which will be officially released this Friday.

The “Autism Action Network” – A-CHAMP – blasted the following email about one hour ago:

Rumors are swirling that the federal government will release this Friday the next round of official autism prevalence statistics and the news will be grim, the “official” autism rate is expected to be 1 in 88, up from 1 in 110 in 2010, which was up from the 1 in 166 rate in 2008.  Given the 4 to 1 ratio of boys to girls, the rate for boys is probably in the neighborhood of 1 in 48. The autism rate has doubled in four years. This is a public health catastrophe. And what is the federal government doing about this? Not much.

The new rate comes from a 2008 survey of eight-year-olds.. The 1:110 rate released in 2010 was from a 2006 survey. The 1:166 rate was from a 2004 survey.

What A-CHAMP conveniently omits is that the children surveyed in the latest report were born in 2000 – one year after vaccine manufacturers announced plans to phase out thimerosal from scheduled pediatric vaccines. If A-CHAMP’s vaccine/autism hypothesis held water, then we would see a decline in Friday’s numbers, since thimerosal was nearly absent from vaccine stockpiles by 2002. There is no decline, but A-CHAMP still thinks the nation is ignoring a catastrophe. It’s all in a day’s work for the folks that once called  California’s Assembly Bill 499 the “California Pedophile Protection Act of 2011?”

It’s a shame that some news outlets will repeat A-CHAMP’s autism rumor without reference to the paper that accompanies the survey. In the 2006 study, 23% of the children determined to have an ASD had no known previous autism diagnosis before the CDC team evaluated administrative records in 12 states. Is it really a catastrophe when developmentally disabled children are finally identified, and receive the services they need?

When reporting on Friday’s numbers, also keep in mind:

  • Researchers have known for at least 15 years that the prevalence of ASD – when you combine severe cases of autism with the “higher functioning” forms – is close to 1:90.
  • It is important to identify children and adults with autism who need support, but are currently being overlooked. When the story is framed this way, the higher rate is a good thing – more autism identified means more people are receiving services.
  • “Autism” exists on a spectrum, and most of the increase is being seen among the less severe cases.
  • The more people are aware of autism, the more people with autism will appear in records, which is how the CDC makes its count.

As awareness grows, educators and mental health professionals are more likely to use terms in their reports like ‘stereotypical and repetitive behaviors’ and ‘poor joint attention. “These are code words for the records reviews people at CDC,” says Dr. Richard Grinker. George Washington University professor and author.

The growth in autism programs also leads to more diagnoses.  “As the services increase, so does the range of programs designed for the spectrum,” says Grinker.  “That leads to more cases because families need a diagnosis to qualify for these new programs.”

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sullivan // Mar 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    One may recall that the Age of Autism and David Kirby broke the embargo on the 1% estimate that came out in the Journal Pediatrics in 2009.

    It’s a slimy tactic. An attempt to gather media attention for what will be a big story. With a great deal of luck, they might get quoted in some newspapers.

  • 2 Mark Erickson // Mar 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    I read an actually decent article from Sharon Begley, who is now at Reuters, today. (IIRC, she was at Time and put out some serious schlock at one time). One groaner and one missed opportunity, but all in all, a fine job. I think we’ve turned a corner on the crazy. Who knew one celebrity break up could improve the world?

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