5 Reasons Autism Rates Are on the Rise4 min read

It’s not vac­cines.

Though it’s tempting to let that be the end of the article, I won’t do that. To me, it’s per­fectly obvious why autism rates are rising. Let’s break down the five rea­sons behind this phe­nom­enon.

1.They’re not.

At least, autism rates aren’t esca­lating at the level main­stream out­lets per­pet­uate. More people are being diag­nosed because we have a better pic­ture of how autism looks across the whole of the spec­trum, espe­cially for women.

2. Again, it’s really not.

Now that accep­tance and under­standing are begin­ning to gain some ground, people are less hes­i­tant to seek out a diag­nosis. The hype that early inter­ven­tions, which have been made more afford­able (and often free), can dra­mat­i­cally improve out­comes for autistic chil­dren has posi­tioned par­ents to be more inclined to talk to their chil­dren’s pedi­a­tri­cians about signs they see.

3. Yeah, not this either.

Pediatricians have new devel­op­mental indi­ca­tors which screen infor­mally for autism at well-child visits. Doctors and health care providers are more edu­cated about the preva­lence and pre­sen­ta­tion of autism, so they are more pre­pared to iden­tify traits of autism in chil­dren before kids are even a year old.

4. Yeah, not here, either…

Since autism is genetic (likely always), par­ents with autistic chil­dren are seeing them­selves in the readily-available lit­er­a­ture about autism as they learn about their kids. So, again, autism itself is not on the rise for this reason, just autism diag­noses.

5. The internet. And col­lege. This one is a thing for real this time.

So, we know that a great many of our IT pio­neers are aspies whose hearts swell at the nos­talgia of dis­as­sem­bling their cal­cu­la­tors, rotary dial phones, radios, and busted cathode ray tube tele­vi­sions to unlock the magic of these com­mu­ni­ca­tion devices. Thus, a gen­er­a­tion of little tin­kerers grew to be big tin­kerers, and in comes the tech­nology era and the per­sonal com­puter. By the late 90s, access to the internet was wide­spread.

So, you’re saying ya’ll really are half-robot?

No, not that. Focus, dammit.

Look at this chart of how part­ners met their spouses, and par­tic­u­larly note the pale blue line which denotes they met online:

graph demonstrates that from 1980-present, a substantial amount of couples meet online.
From BBC’s article about how cou­ples are meeting, view­able here.

Other sources have the the per­centage of cou­ples who meet online even higher. Now, look at the preva­lence of autism rates over the last two decades:

Image retrieved from Australia’s ADHD Autism Foundation, view­able here.

So, what’s the con­nec­tion?

Correlation doesn’t equal cau­sa­tion. But, it wouldn’t take too much of an intu­itive leap to say that the intro­verted, socially-isolated out­casts of human his­tory have found that out­side the pecking orders which dom­i­nate local social hier­ar­chies, there exists a world of other eccen­tric, highly-focused, similarly-minded people online.

Cue the romantic ballad…

The internet has made it easier for home­bodies and those who don’t enjoy the tra­di­tional meet-and-greet methods to find each other. College, too, is more acces­sible to women and to those who haven’t come from a back­ground of priv­i­lege. It’s also a place to meet other people with the same intense pas­sions for art, lit­er­a­ture, sci­ence, or just learning in gen­eral.

The Long and Short of Autism Prevalence

So, I would say that autism rates are the on the rise because autistic people are better posi­tioned to find answers about them­selves, they’re seeing them­selves in their autistic kids, and they are finding each other online and in higher edu­ca­tion. The internet has given a plat­form for autistic people to come together and find their soul­mates, who are often also autistic, and they are increasing the odds of having an autistic baby.

My hope is that within the next decade, it will be acknowl­edged by the main­stream that the vast majority of autis­tics aren’t intel­lec­tu­ally impaired, but that they have gone undi­ag­nosed or mis­di­ag­nosed because the per­cep­tion about what autism means is too narrow by the stan­dards of main­stream prac­ti­tioners.

I have a lot of hopes for the future of autistic people, and none of those hopes involve a cure. Instead, I hope that behav­ioral sci­en­tists and local pro­fes­sionals will listen to autistic people, researchers will use neural imaging to under­stand how autistic brains are dif­ferent, employers will learn how to struc­ture posi­tions for autistic employees, and autistic people will inform ther­a­peutic inter­ven­tions for autistic adults and chil­dren.

In the mean­time, this is just a tongue-in-cheek musing from an autistic psy­chology nerd and is not meant to be taken as sci­en­tific fact; how­ever, there’s a lot more veracity and scholastic merit to this theory than the chem­trail, vac­cine, or GMO quackery.

Vaccinate your chil­dren.

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