Did you see the January study from UC Davis using California's numbers that said unequivocally there's been a clear rise, it's not do [sic] to diagnostic substitution.
Handley is referring to Hertz-Picciotto & Delwiche (2009). This is what the conclusions of the paper actually said:
Autism incidence in California shows no sign yet of plateauing. Younger ages at diagnosis, differential migration, changes in diagnostic criteria, and inclusion of milder cases do not fully explain the observed increases. Other artifacts have yet to be quantified, and as a result, the extent to which the continued rise represents a true increase in the occurrence of autism remains unclear.
That's not an unequivocal determination of a clear rise, by any stretch of the imagination. Besides, that paper was surprisingly poor. None of the figures used by the paper approach anything that might be called certain or accurate. One of the artifacts the paper fails to take into account is probably the most pertinent artifact of all: awareness. A summary of all the very serious problems the paper had can be found at the end of this post.
We're looking for something that's caused this epidemic. It went from one in 10,000 in the 1970s to less than one in 100 today in many states.
The first epidemiological study of autism was Lotter (1966). It finds a prevalence of 4.5 in 10,000. That was in the UK. Wing et al. (1976) finds the same prevalence in the US. Mike Stanton has a good summary of historical prevalence studies. I don't think this is the first time I've corrected Handley and others about this.
I happen to have read Lotter (1966). What they called 'autism' back then is very different to, say, what the DSM-IV calls 'autism' today. It's apples and oranges. Here's a excerpt from Lotter (1966) to give you an idea:
The two categories of the Creak criteria concerning a "'pathological preoccupation with particular objects" and "an insistence on the preservation of sameness" were therefore combined.
These are similar to criteria C2 and C4 of the DSM-IV, but in the DSM-IV they are basically optional (only 1 item from C is required.)
The paper explains they located 666 out of 75,930 (88 in 10,000) children who had "certain kinds of behaviour" that couldn't be simply characterized as "backwardness." They initially excluded 87% from this group, based on the opinions of two judges familiar with the syndrome of autism.
They ended up with 32 autistic children, 22 (68.8%) of whom had IQs under 55, another 5 (15.6%) with IQs between 55 and 79, and the remaining 5 (15.6%) with an IQ of 80 or above. Again, this is quite different to what we call 'autism' today.
I want to talk about this issue of autism prevalence. It's going to be shocking for parents to learn that the CDC and the AAP don't actually acknowledge that there's been a real rise in autism cases. Larry, the Department of Education in 1992, 16,000 kids were getting autism services. Today 225,000. That means in 1992, they were missing 93 percent of kids with autism. Where are all the adults with autism? They don't exist.
Adults with autism don't exist? That's not only insulting and potentially damaging to the quality of life of autistic adults; it's completely wrong. It becomes embarrassingly wrong every time someone goes and surveys adults to see if autism can be found among them.
Again, I doubt this is the first time this has been pointed out to JB Handley.
Heck, Handley's Age of Autism has a token autistic adult who contributes to that blog from time to time.
His Special Education figures are essentially correct, except the year is 1993, not 1992. What he fails to mention is that 489,000 students were receiving services under the mental retardation category in 1993, and only 425,000 as of 2007.
Let's consider Specific Learning Disability and MR together, and let's also consider population growth. The prevalence of both categories combined was 645 in 10,000 in 1993, and 584 in 10,000 as of 2007 for 6 to 17 year olds. That's a drop of 61 in 10,000 – more than enough to cover the increase in the administrative prevalence of autism.
Is it possible that JB Handley has never heard of diagnostic substitution in IDEA? Doubtful.
Those are all the statements I will address in this post. Readers are welcome to point out other errors, if any.
My impression is that JB Handley is either completely misinformed about some basic facts having to do with autism epidemiology, or he decided to go on Larry King to simply lie with a straight face.
To conclude, here's some advice for Larry King: In the future, if you want to discuss the "autism epidemic," you would do well to invite recognized experts on the matter, such as Roy Richard Grinker or Eric Fombonne.