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Rise In Autism May Be A Myth


Anne Jakins
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Rise in Autism may be a Myth – main points taken from the article by Jonathon Carr-Brown for The Sunday Times 18th January 2004

· American epidemiologists Hershel Jick and James Kaye of the Boston University school of medicine say they have proved that the rise of childhood autism is explained by a change in the way doctors diagnose behavioural disorders.

· Their research is based on 280 GP surgeries with 3 million patients

· They say that the data shows the rise in autism cases corresponds with a decline in the diagnoses of other developmental disorders.

· They do not rule out the link between the MMR and Autism but do not hold it responsible for the large rise.

· Their theory is that the children have not changed but the diagnosis has.

· From 1993 to 2000 the number of children diagnosed with autism rose 25% a year while the number diagnosed with behavioural disorders fell by 25% a year.

· Outside causes were ruled out by the examination of all the drugs and illnesses of 126 children diagnosed with autism and compared them to 624 healthy children.

· It found no significant difference except that half the autistic children had been previously diagnosed with a behavioural disorder.

· Dr Paul Shattock director of the Autism Research Unit at Sunderland University and autism pressure groups have dismissed the survey and would like a new co-ordinated study.

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American epidemiologists Hershel Jick and James Kaye of the Boston University school of medicine say they have proved that the rise of childhood autism is explained by a change in the way doctors diagnose behavioural disorders.

Their research is based on 280 GP surgeries with 3 million patients. They say that the data shows the rise in autism cases corresponds with a decline in the diagnoses of other developmental disorders.

They might be right but there is another explanation for the results of their study. It is possible that there has been an increase in both autism and other behavioural disorders since 1993.

My experience in the classroom suggests that over the last ten years there has been a significant increase in behavioural disorders. I would suggest two possible reasons for this:

(1) The change in diet in young children. There is considerable scientific evidence to suggest that diet has a major impact on the behaviour of children.

(2) The second reason is more controversial and it difficult to back up with scientific evidence. It is that there has been a decline in the ability of parents to shape the behaviour of their children. This is an issue that I think schools will eventually have to address. We can no longer rely on this being done via the extended family. In fact, a growing percentage of grandparents do not appear to have this knowledge.

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