Autism: "A Serious Public Health Problem"
Autism: “A Serious Public Health Problem”
By Anne McElroy Dachel
The article about autism, No Know Cause, No Cure by Jennifer Chancellor in the Tulsa World on April 1 got my attention. It wasn’t because we were again told that no one knows for sure why one in every 150 U.S. kids is now autistic, or that experts have no idea how to cure them. That’s pretty much the way autism is covered in the press. What stood out to me was the first part of the statement, “The CDC has called autism a national public health crisis.”
As someone who has read news reports on autism
for several years, I’ve yet to see the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention use the term “crisis” when
talking about autism.
Maybe I missed it somewhere, but after several days searching through CDC press releases on autism, it just wasn’t there.
The Oprah Show covered autism on April 5. Oprah started the program by saying that the CDC calls autism a “national health threat.” That was the first time I’d seen a term as strong as “health threat” used by the CDC in referring to autism. Oprah said that 67 children a day in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism, making it one every 20 minutes. That seems like a lot more than just a “health threat.”
The CDC is extremely careful when mentioning autism. For instance, in February when announcing the results of a 5 year old study revealing an autism prevalence rate of one in 150 among eight-year olds, the “C” word was never mentioned. "Autism is a serious public health problem which impacts too many children and their families," said CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH. Is “Serious public health problem” as alarmed as the Director is about autism in 2007?
So why is it that autism doesn’t deserve a crisis rating by the CDC? Lots of other diseases and disorders do. They’ve come out in official statements calling HIV/AIDS a “crisis.” The explosion in the rate of diabetes in the U.S. is a “crisis” to the CDC too. The CDC has an official “Bird Flu Crisis Plan” ready for when the avian flu actually affects someone in the U.S. We officially have a “childhood obesity crisis” and an “asthma crisis” according to the CDC.
While I’m not arguing that diseases and disorders like AIDS and diabetes don’t deserve to be called crises, I’m just continually amazed that the CDC doesn’t consider autism in a league with other serious health concerns.
Another term the health care officials are careful not to use in the same breath as autism is the word “epidemic.” Autism may affect more children than pediatric AIDS, juvenile diabetes and childhood cancer COMBINED, but autism is never an epidemic to the CDC. Surprisingly, the CDC refers to each of these other diseases on their own as epidemics.
As the autism numbers exploded from one in 10,000 in the 1970s, to one in 2,500 in the 1980s, to the present one in every 150 children in the U.S., the CDC kept telling us that it just wasn’t happening. When asked why more and more autistic kids are filling our schools, the federal health experts told us that doctors were getting better at recognizing autism. This “better diagnosing” explanation has just been reinforced with the claim that the new rate of one in 150 is because the CDC is getting better at counting.
autism website of the CDC makes no reference to either
“epidemic” or “crisis.”
The tone of the information has all the urgency of the CDC fact sheet on treating head lice. There’s no indication that autism costs the U.S. $90 billion a year and that it's projected to increase to $200-400 billion annually in ten more years, according to the Autism Society of America. Nor is there anything about the recent conservative estimate that each autistic person in the U.S. will cost the American taxpayers $3.2 million
Under “What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?” on the CDC website, we are told that “people with ASD often have problems with language, communication and social skills. ASD may display a certain set of behaviors, such as resisting change, repeating phrases or actions, not interacting with others in traditional conversation or play, or showing distress for unapparent reasons.”
That weak description doesn’t tell us how seriously affected many children with autism are. It doesn’t include the children with violent behavior who are a danger to themselves and to others, or the child who can’t talk at all and has no fear of dangerous situations and is in need of constant supervision.
And the CDC website fails to note the other health problems like chronic diarrhea, seizures, allergies, and asthma which often accompany autism.
The CDC may have their own reasons for avoiding attention-getting terms like “crisis” and “epidemic.” This is also the agency that runs the vaccine program. As the charge continues to be made that vaccines are directly related to the explosion in the autism rate, the CDC continues to deny it.
On the CDC website, they say, “No one knows
exactly what causes Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
They cautiously say that “experts believe genetic and environmental factors probably interact in complex ways to contribute to the onset of the disorder,” but they’re quick to tell us, “…neither thimerosal-containing vaccines or MMR vaccine are associated with ASDs.” Such claims “lack supporting evidence and are only theoretical.”
With new rate, the autism advocacy group, SafeMinds published a press release in which SafeMinds president Lyn Redwood, RN stated, “We are truly in the midst of an epidemic.” One of the things she asked for was that the CDC “acknowledge the epidemic increase in autism rates.”
At the same time, National Autism Association President Wendy Fournier in the Providence Journal said, “Autism is a crisis. It’s an epidemic. We’re renewing our call to the CDC to declare that autism is a national emergency.”
That’s highly unlikely. If the CDC won’t call autism a “crisis” or “epidemic,” they sure aren’t going to use “emergency” anywhere near the word autism.
Others however, echo the call to recognize autism as a national health care emergency. F. Edward Yazbak, MD, FAAP wrote Autism 99: A National Emergency which summarized a report on autism in 1999 by the California legislature that showed “a massive and persistent rise in the incidence of this disease.” Dr. Yazbak also cited the exponential increase in autism in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Missouri, and Rhode Island. In other words, the explosion in autism wasn’t just an isolated fluke, it was everywhere.
In Autism 2000: A Tragedy, Dr. Yazbak focused on the 26% annual autism increase in U.S. schools. The next year he wrote, Autism 2001:The Silent Epidemic, in which he gave the stunning figures out of California of 7 or 8 new cases of autism a day in that state. Dr. Yazbak asked why the CDC continued to ignore autism, “One can only imagine the outcry if there was an outbreak of 4,000 cases of any other pediatric illness in the same three month period. The CDC specialists would be clamoring for a cure and seriously looking for the clues to the epidemic.”
In his best selling book, Evidence of Harm, author David Kirby wrote that through the efforts of autism advocate Rick Rollins of the Mind Institute, the California legislature produced the “first-ever comprehensive epidemiological report on the increase of autism cases in California.” Rick broke that down to “one new child every four hours” diagnosed with autism in the state. He added, “Each of those kids would end up costing taxpayers at least two million dollars.” Furthermore, “unlike children with cancer or AIDS, autistic kids don’t die from their disease. These facts don’t seem to get the attention of the CDC and autism is downplayed. Officially calling autism an “emergency,” “epidemic,” or “crisis,” would necessitate taking action.
The clock is ticking however. The generation of autistic children will soon become the generation of autistic adults dependent on the U.S. taxpayers for support and care. The first wave will be aging out in the next few years and the autism epidemic will be evident to everyone. When that happens, it will no longer be just a crisis. It will be a disaster.
Anne McElroy Dachel
amdachel @ msn.com
(Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning)
National Autism Association (NAA)