I’m prob a bit late to the party, because I had no wifi for THREE DAYS (I barely survived), but I am still angry about this thing and therefore it is still current and relevant.
Steve Lebsock, the Democrat representative of Colorado House District 34, has put forward a bill that wants the executive director of the department of public health and environment and the governor’s expert emergency epidemic response committee to put their heads together and try and figure out whether or not there is an AUTISM EPIDEMIC (dun dun duuunnnn). They’re going to have a look at 27 years worth of data and if they manage to somehow spot an epidemic, they’re going to declare it and take action to protect public health. You know, in case everyone in Colorado catches it.
SPOILER: They won’t find an autism epidemic. Because there isn’t one.
People have been worrying since autism was first described about the ‘rising numbers’ of autistic children. What could possibly be causing this? A lot of things have been blamed, most famously the MMR vaccine. But it doesn’t take long to figure out why the number of identified autistics has risen.
Over time, the diagnostic criteria for autism have changed. Children that were previously missed met the new criteria and were able to get support. So, more children are being identified, and more adults who were previously missed are also discovering for the first time that there’s an explanation for who they are; autism. I wasn’t spotted as a child and it’s NOT because I wasn’t autistic then. It’s because it was the 80s and people didn’t know much about autism, and because the diagnostic criteria would have excluded me anyway.
There are also many children that previously would have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability. Now, with the expanded criteria and greater knowledge of autism, these children are being given the support and acceptance they need.
And recently some studies have shown that the number of autistic children is stabilising, which kind of ruins the whole scary epidemic idea.
Here’s the thing; an autistic person is autistic regardless of whether or not they have a letter from a psychiatrist. A diagnosis doesn’t make someone autistic. This bit is important so I’m going to underline it so nobody misses it:
A rise in diagnoses is NOT THE SAME THING as a rise in incidence. I don’t know WHY this is difficult to understand, but apparently it seems to escape some people. The rise in the number of identified autistics is really very simple to explain; we know more about autism than we used to.
This kind of panic about an ‘epidemic’ that doesn’t exist actually damages autistic people. Fun fact: The United States department of homeland security defines epidemic as “the rapid spread of disease that affects some or many people in a community or region at the same time”. Autism isn’t a disease and there is no way for it to ‘spread’, unless the autistic people of Colorado are having a loooooot of babies.
Treating autism in the same way as you’d treat a flu epidemic just makes people scared of us.
Treating autism as something that needs to be prevented makes us seem like we’re undesirable.
Treating autism as something that is BAD makes us misunderstood and marginalised.
And these ideas about reducing the number of people identified as autistic? Denying autistic people the right to understand ourselves, to find our community and to get the acceptance we need is A BAD THING. So really, stop complaining about the wooooooo, scary rise in numbers of autistic people and start feeling proud that you live in a time and place where autistic people are able to know and accept themselves.