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Study Concludes Rise in Autism Not Due to Better Diagnosis

little girl looking out window

“Better diagnosis” is one of the most cited reasons in published research for increased rates of autism in children. With this prevailing view, parents are essentially made to feel they are helpless in preventing this disorder from occurring and there is no hope for a cure.

A new study recently published in Frontiers in Pediatrics1 provides evidence challenging one of the biggest myths about the autism epidemic among children, which is that “better diagnosis” is entirely responsible for the substantial increase in the diagnosis of cases of autism and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) over the past three decades.

The study, “A prospective Longitudinal Assessment of Medical Records for Diagnostic Substitution among Subjects Diagnosed with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder in the United States,” independently analyzed Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) data2 that has been extremely difficult to obtain from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services until recently.

Study authors concluded that “diagnostic substitution cannot fully explain increased PDD prevalence during the 1990s within the United States.” Comparing children diagnosed with mental retardation (MR) or cerebral palsy (CP) and PDD in the VSD database, their research revealed major differences between the MR and CP populations and the PDD population:

  • the PDD population had significantly more males than females, while the MR and CP populations had a 50/50 male/female ratio;
  • the PDD population had a delayed mean age of diagnosis (between 2 to 4 years old) while the MR and CP populations mean age of diagnosis was before age two;
  • the PDD population lacked significant health problems at birth while the MR and CP populations exhibited significant health problems at birth.

“Better diagnosis” is one of the most cited reasons in published research for increased rates of autism in children. With this prevailing view, parents are essentially made to feel they are helpless in preventing this disorder from occurring and there is no hope for a cure.

The study was made possible because of the persistent efforts of researchers unaffiliated with industry or government to gain access to the same data sets used by public health officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that, up until now, have not been made available to independent researchers. The lack of transparency and accessibility to data has hampered research, discussion and discovery of important information about why the U.S. has gone from zero cases of autism before the 1940’s to over one million cases3 in the last 75 years.

As most of these 1 million+ children transition from being financially and physically cared for by their parents to becoming an obligation of the public safety net, i.e. Medicaid and Social Security Disability, the enormous social and financial cost must be acknowledged. How we take the responsible next steps to analyze changes in children’s environmental and medical exposures, which could account for a large portion of the dramatic increases in autism and PDD, will have a profound impact on whether we are successful in addressing this public health crisis that now is estimated to affect 1 in 68 children.

It took four decades—from the 1940’s to the 1980’s—to discredit the cruel allegation that “refrigerator” mothers caused autism by failing to properly nurture and care for their children. Since then, “better diagnosis” has been the block-and-tackle rationale used by public health officials and many doctors to explain the unexplained increase in cases of autism, discouraging further research into real causes and potential biomedical treatments.

As we head into this political season where it appears autism will be a topic of some discussion, hopefully this very important study will add context to the information we get from the media reporting on the autism epidemic.


Note: This article was reprinted with the author’s permission. Claire Dwoskin is founder and president of the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI). This study was supported in part by a grant from the Dwoskin Family Foundation to investigate potential causal factors underlying the chronic disease and disability epidemic in America.

References:

1 Geier D, Kern J, Hooker B et al. A Prospective Longitudinal Assessment of Medical Records for Diagnostic Substitution among Subjects Diagnosed with a Pervasive Developmental Disorder in the United States. Front Pediatr Sept. 25, 2015.
2 Institute of Medicine Review of the National Immunization Program’s Research Procedures and Data Sharing Program. Vaccine Safety Research, Data Access AND Public Trust. The National Academies Press 2005. 
3 Associated Press. 1 in 68 Children, or 1.2 Americans, Have Autism. Fox News Mar. 26, 2014.

8 Responses to Study Concludes Rise in Autism Not Due to Better Diagnosis

  1. Caroline Reply

    September 30, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    I have master degrees in education and social work. I worked for over 40 yrs in schools and clinical settings. I have always refuted the myth that “better diagnosis” is the rational for unexplained increase in the diagnosis of children on the PDD spectrum. These children present with very specific behaviors and characteristics. I did not see many of these children in the settings in which I worked 15 to 40 years ago. Within the last 10 years, I saw many children on the spectrum in the public schools, provided clinical counseling and facilitated social skills groups for them. These amazing children and their families deserve our support and research must focus on the environmental and medical causes.

  2. Shannon Reply

    October 1, 2015 at 7:34 am

    Thank you so much for posting this. Can you please provide a link to the original study? I couldn’t find it anywhere on the web and I want people to take this seriously when I share it. Thank you!

  3. Monica Kay Reply

    October 1, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Or accepted but not published in print yet? Not sure what provisionally published means.

  4. Suzanne Burrall Reply

    November 10, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    It was 26 years ago that the vaccine schedule mutiplied dramatically, so about 20 years ago we began to see the first wave of more severely affected children who had received the higher doses of vaccines that contained thimerosal. As these children aged into the system, we began to take note of the increasing numbers. By the late 90s, the “autism epidemic” became apparent and during the early 2000s LAUSD began to add at least one “Autism Class” for each school in their district. This would be in addition to their other Special Education classes. After the process began to phase out the preservative thimerosal in most, not all, childhood vaccines, childhood disabilities began to reflect less severity, but nevertheless increased with more diagnoses of ADHD and less severe autism. This may be due to the adjuvant aluminum.

  5. brad Reply

    November 11, 2015 at 8:37 am

    As Dr Gonzalez had pointed out – it doesn’t take a genius to notice someone gently banging their head against the wall. It also is pretty obvious to anyone, when a person stops talking, regresses in social interactions, etc.

    The people i’d heard trying to refute the link to vaccination pretended that since the first known cases of autism dated from the 30s – that it COULDN’T be caused by vaccines – and yet, vaccination WAS occurring then AND had thimerosol in almost all those vaccines.

    MS was also developing about that same time frame….

    To state that it couldn’t be vaccines is pretty naieve about the history of vaccines. To state that it was not diagnosed is pretty ridiculous, because people were trained about it a bit in medical schools in the 70s and 80s and told they would likely never have an autistic patient. But they learned and knew the symptoms – or nobody would have been diagnosed with autism, would they?

  6. Keith MacClugage Reply

    November 11, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    Has it occurred to anyone if that ridiculous statement were true we would have 1 in 68 adults with autism?

  7. Barbara McCoy Reply

    December 8, 2015 at 9:43 am

    you may want to read the other article reporting the increased numbers noted by the CDC. here is a link to it to copy and paste into your search bar.
    http://www.thevaccinereaction.org/2015/12/cdc-1-in-45-children-diagnosed-with-autism/

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