April is Autism Awareness Month. You have probably already watched numerous news reports aimed at raising awareness about this complex neurobiological disorder.
But autism continues to grow at such an alarming rate that it is an issue deserving our attention throughout the year.
Twenty years ago, autism was considered a relatively rare disorder. In the late 1980s, the incidence of autism was estimated to be 1 in 10,000 children. By the mid-1990s the number had risen to 1 in 500. Last December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced 1 in 110 8-year-old children has an autism spectrum disorder.
Although once considered a very rare disorder, autism has become the fastest growing developmental disorder - affecting 1 in 110, 1 in 70 boys - and has become more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
You can't look at these numbers without wanting to ask a lot of questions. How does a childhood disorder go from virtual obscurity - with many doctors admitting never seeing a child with autism - to 1 in 70 boys?
Some believe autism is strictly a genetic disorder but most experts agree there is no such thing as a "genetic epidemic." But our genes simply do not change fast enough to explain this tremendous increase and studies have suggested environmental exposures may provide a better explanation.
Others suggest the increase is the result of a broadening definition of autism, otherwise known as the "better diagnoses" theory. While this may explain a small percentage, several studies have confirmed that the increases we see today cannot be explained by the "better diagnoses" hypothesis.
Last year, the Washington Post published an exceptional thought-provoking article titled "Still Overlooking Autistic Adults," that begins with a virutally important question: "What coming social expenditure will cost more than a third of this year's budget for the Department of Health and Human Services and be larger than the entire budge of the Energy Department?"
Answer: "The bill for the tide of autistic children entering adulthood over the next 15 years, an estimated $27 billion annually in current, non-inflation-adjusted dollars by the end of that period...If a town were created to house this group of people and their caregivers - for you can't separate the two - it would exceed the population of all but six U.S. cities. If they formed a state, it would have four electoral votes." (One of the best articles I've ever read).
Whether your family is directly affected by or not, autism is an issue that has far reaching consequences for our society.
What do you think?
Deirdre Imus is the Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology (r) at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. Deirdre is the author of four books, including three national bestsellers. She is a frequent speaker on green living and children's health issues, and is a contributor to foxnewshealth.com. For more information, go to www.dienviro.com