Incidences of autism rose in the 80s.  Is this a result of external and/or genetic factors, or simply because autism hadn't been properly diagnosed before?(i.e. could the same amount of autism...

Incidences of autism rose in the 80s.  Is this a result of external and/or genetic factors, or simply because autism hadn't been properly diagnosed before?

(i.e. could the same amount of autism cases be found in the 1950s?  the 1920s?  The difference being the way the autistic were treated?)

Expert Answers
Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a parent with an autistic daughter, I have been floored by the rise of autism. My child was born in 1997. It took me seven years to get an official diagonsis, even though, now, when you look at a chart of symptoms, she has easily 12 out of 15.

I have watched the numbers go from 1 in 500 when she was born, to 1 in 120 in the span of a decade.

What causes this rise? I can't be sure. I do think more awareness by physicians plays a crucial role. Autism is better understood now. When Austen, my daughter was little, she was dismissed by her GP and neurologists on the misguided information that "girls don't get autism." Clearly they do. Perhaps not at the same rate as boys, but their numbers are climbing exponentially. Of the 12 kids in my daughter's special needs class, four are girls with autism.

There has been a LOT of debate about the role of vaccines in causing autism. I am of the opinion that the science has proven that vaccines are NOT a cause of autism. However, I know many, many autistic parents that swear they had a neurotypical child until given vaccines. Now, they have a child with autism.

Still, I tend to believe the science. I think vaccines may play a role but they are not a sole factor. Perhaps they work in conjunction with genetics and environmental factors. The cocktail, as it were, may be the trigger for autism.

I have two children; my autistic daughter and my neurotypical son. My son had exactly the same course of vaccines as my daughter, but no autism.

There is no clear answer.

One thing I personally would like to see investigated is the role that inducing labor may play in the onset of autism. The rates of inducing have risen exponentially over the last 25 years, as have the rates of autism. Could a fetus being introduced to those powerful chemicals play a role in the trigger? My daughter was induced; my son was not. Again, circumstatial evidence but perhaps worth investigating.




Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My own belief is that the greater awareness of autism in the 1980s led to greater understanding in diagnosing it.  I don't think that there was something inherent in the conditions or genetic factors of this time period or those leading to it that increased autism.  The work of Kanner in the 1940s started the process of understanding autism.  I think that autism is similar to the changes that the mental health profession underwent in the time from that point to the 1980s, whereby greater awareness and understanding in both diagnosis and treatment, led to greater number of cases.  In this light, the number of cases grew because doctors and health professionals began to understand the condition more.  Study in biological factors such as brain composition and configuration led to greater understanding in the autistic condition, and this led to more incidences becoming more apparent in the 1980s.  As greater understanding of children and the conditions that impact children started to take hold in this time period emerged, I feel that the number of reported cases of autism increased as a result.