Chat with us, powered by LiveChat DJ-CP-M1 |

Topic- Autism


Thesis: The increase in autism cases in the United States is a direct result of the expanded classification system for autism spectrum disorders and a better understanding of brain functions.

Summary: The increase in the diagnosis of autism cases in the US is due to a wider definition of autism under the autism spectrum disorder classification system and a better understanding of brain function. The term autism is relatively new within the scientific community: significant research on the disorder is less than fifty years old. As the scientific community broadened the classification system to include varying degrees of autism, a larger number of individuals were diagnosed with autism-related disorders. Brain imaging technology is also suggesting that autism has a neurobiological basis with a variety of brain abnormalities present in autistic patients. Research by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Mental Health, and other private and federal centers of research will likely identify an increase in the number of autism spectrum disorder cases as new information is gathered and statistics reveal that a far greater number of persons are affected by autism than has been diagnosed historically.

Beyond Learning Disabled

For many generations, children who struggled to integrate socially or academically were labeled as mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, or even insane, depending on the ways in which their antisocial behavior clashed with societal norms. Bewildered parents were uncertain how to reach their often withdrawn and socially distant children. Some doctors believed the problems stemmed from poor parenting and removed children from their homes in the hopes that foster care would improve their symptoms. Children who demonstrated self-destructive or violent tendencies were often institutionalized, sometimes for life. Diagnoses were uncertain and experimental treatments were unreliable.

Although the term autism was coined in 1911 by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler to describe schizophrenic patients who kept themselves apart from others, the term had not been used in association with children, nor did it gain international attention. In 1943, American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner reported on a study of eleven children with a certain set of traits including impaired social skills, distress at change in circumstances, remarkable memory, unusual sensory reactiveness, good intellectual potential, and belated echolalia, the uncommon trait of repeating the speech of others. Kanner chose the term “autistic children” to diagnostically address these symptoms.

In 1944, Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger conducted an unrelated study on a group of children he described as autistic psychopaths. The trait subset overlapped significantly, with the exception of echolalia. The children Asperger studied were exceptionally gifted in some ways, and spoke intelligently as if they were miniature adults. Unfortunately, Asperger’s findings went nearly unnoticed by the medical community for almost fifty years, primarily because they had not been translated into English.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, research on autism in children accelerated. Some studies suggested that while certain symptoms classically defined autism, the diagnosis should actually include a wide spectrum of behavior. While some children were severely handicapped by their autism, others were able to perform normally within society and might even be described as gifted, though eccentric.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are classified as pervasive developmental disorders. This distinction suggests that spectrum disorders affect multiple areas of an individual’s personality, as opposed to specific developmental disorders which affect only one. The common traits of ASD are typically grouped under four sections: social impairment, language impairment, imaginative impairment, and sensory integration dysfunction. The five primary disorders diagnosed under the autism spectrum are autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and the catch-all diagnosis of pervasive personality disorder not otherwise specified (PPD-NOS). An additional diagnosis of high-functioning autism is sometimes used to describe patients within the spectrum who exhibit some symptoms of autism but are more capable in their social interactions than many autistic individuals.

Better Brain Knowledge

Although the exact cause of autism is not known, it is commonly accepted among the medical community that the symptoms of the disorder are a result of physical brain abnormalities and functioning problems. Advancements in neuroimaging have suggested specific abnormalities in the limbic system and cerebellar circuits of autism patients. In 2000, a Japanese study comparing the brain images of autistic and non-autistic children with similar intelligence levels revealed two significant findings related to regional cerebral blood flow.

The first showed that impairments in communication and social interaction are directly related to altered perfusion in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus. The second exposed a relationship between obsessive desires for sameness with altered perfusion in the right medial temporal lobe. A study at Johns Hopkins University in 2004 also reinforced the theory that the brain’s immune system is somehow related to autism. The study showed that brain imaging revealed certain consistent inflammations among autistic patients. Unfortunately, the data was not conclusive in suggesting whether the inflammation was a consequence of the disorder or its cause.

Further research on the causes of autism was initiated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2000. Under the Children’s Health Act of 2000, the CDC started SEED, the Study to Explore Early Development. SEED is exploring relationships between autism and autoimmune functions, hormonal and reproductive functions, gastrointestinal features, genetic features, socio-demographic data, sleep patterns, mercury exposure through vaccines, smoking and alcohol use during fetal development, and environmental exposures. While some of these potential relationships have been studied in the past, no conclusive answers have been determined.

In October 2007, the results of the largest genome scan project ever conducted in autism research were reported. A group of more than 120 scientists, representing fifty different institutions and nineteen different nations, worked together to form an autism genetics consortium known as the Autism Genome Project. The first results from this study focused on a region of chromosome eleven, and a gene called neurexin-one. Members of the consortium speculate that neurexin-one, which is used by glutamate neurons, may play an important role in neuronal contact and, ultimately, neuron communication problems in the brains of children with ASD. Research on this project is continuing, with an emphasis on detailed genome scanning using innovative technologies.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) also began a new research study on autism in October 2007. Their Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) initiative combines two existing programs in its attempt to find the cause of autism and identify new treatments for the disorder.

As the NIH, CDC, and other independent sources search for the cause or causes of ASD, it is likely that the statistics for ASDs will increase as more information becomes accessible to the medical community and the general public. Information already available regarding the genetic elements of ASDs suggests a familial trend toward spectrum disorders, increasing the chances for diagnosing ASDs in adults. This is due largely to parents recognizing social and educational problems they experienced in their own lives reflected in the struggles of their autistic children. Outside the home environment, schools are classifying more children with special needs into the autism spectrum. There exists little in the way of guideline uniformity for schools making this designation, another key indicator that a reported 657 percent increase in national autism rates referenced in an article of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Rust 2006) likely links to greater awareness and autonomy for school professionals.

Greater Information Equals More Diagnosis

According to a CDC press release from February 2007, an average of 6.6 out of every 1000 children born in 1992 were diagnosed with ASDs. This is a significantly higher number than previous estimates for autism prevalence, which estimated approximately four out of every 10,000 children. The same CDC report included data regarding recent studies from other nations, where reported prevalence of ASD ranged from one in 500 to one in 166 children.

Whereas in the past children were classified as autistic or not-autistic, the autism spectrum allows for the inclusion of a much wider range of personality disorders under the umbrella-term of autism. With this in mind, autism is now affecting nearly 1.5 million Americans and, with an annual increase of incidence rate of 10 to 17 percent, it has become the fastest-growing developmental disability. A July 2008, a Canadian research study conducted by Bryson, et. al. demonstrated a higher rate of autism than previous data in the literature; the study concluded that their higher estimate for the disease likely reflects recent changes in diagnostic criteria (Bryson et al, 2008).

One factor contributing to the rising number of autism cases is the increasing capability for early diagnosis. While the CDC studies were conducted on children who were at least eight years old, early signs of autism can be recognized in children as young as eighteen months. According to the CDC findings, between 50 and 88 percent of the children with ASDs had documented developmental concerns before the age of three. The recognition of early signs of ASDs is primarily the responsibility of parents, health care professionals, and childcare providers. The most commonly documented early concern was language development, followed by social development, joint attention, and the ability to properly initiate and respond during interpersonal communication.

As of October 2007, the CDC, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), has recommended that health care professionals provide routine developmental and autism-specific screenings for children and infants starting at the 9-month well-child assessment. Such screenings would augment already existing developmental milestone assessments that are conducted through routine well-baby and well-child appointments. These new screenings will undoubtedly increase the number of children diagnosed with autism, but reduce some of the long-term difficulties those children experience, as they will be able to begin treatment sooner.

As advancements in the understanding of brain functioning continue, the future may include an even wider range of mental disorders in the autism spectrum, or redefine them into another category. Some medical professionals are investigating links between ASDs and other mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While this may lead to a greater number of individuals diagnosed with autism-related disorders, it is better for doctors to properly understand the needs of their patients and be able to treat them appropriately than for patients, particularly children, to suffer the damaging stigmas that were previously associated with mental disorders.

Ponder This

1. Is the argument persuasive that the number of autism cases is increasing because of the use of the spectrum classification system? Why or why not?

2. Does the author make a convincing argument that an advanced understanding of brain functioning is contributing to an increase in autism cases? Explain your answer.

3. The author describes a scenario where parents observing their children’s autism realize that they too may have an autism spectrum disorder. Do you think that this type of self-diagnosis is helpful? Explain your answer.

4. Do you think that autism assessment for infants and young children according to their social and language development will provide accurate results? Why or why not? 5. Does the author seem to leave out or sidestep any important issues in the debate? Discuss.



Richard Lathe. Autism, Brain And Environment. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006.

Perez Juan Martos, Maria Llorente Comi, and Carmen M. Nieto. New Developments in Autism: The Future Is Today. Jessica Kingsley Publishers,2006.


Marohn, Sara. “My Autistic Angels.” Teen Ink. 21.6 (02/01/2010). 26-26. Points of View Reference Center.

McGrew, John H. “Preliminary Investigation of the Sources of Self-Efficacy Among Teachers of Students with Autism.” Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities. 26.2 (06/01/2011). 67-74. Academic Search Complete. .

Polloway, Edward A. “A Survey of Personnel Preparation Practices in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities. 26.2 (06/01/2011). 75-86. Academic Search Complete.

Jones, Hazel A. “Schema-Based Strategy Instruction in Mathematics and the Word Problem-Solving Performance of a Student With Autism.” Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities. 26.2 (06/01/2011). 87-95. Academic Search Complete.

Brieber, Sarah, Susanne Neufang, Nicole Bruning, et al. “Structural brain abnormalities in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and patients with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry 48:12 (December 2007): 1251-1258.

Bryson, S., Bradley, E., Thompson, A., & Wainwright, A. (2008, July). “Prevalence of Autism Among Adolescents With Intellectual Disabilities.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 53(7), 449-459. Retrieved August 16, 2008 .

Carey, Benedict. “Study Finds Autism Spectrum Disorders in About 1% of 8-Year-Olds.” The New York Times. 18 December 2009

“CDC launches ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ Campaign.” Indian Journal of Medical Sciences 59:2 (February 2005): 82-83.

Cox, Anthony R. and Harold Kirkham. “A Case Study of a Graphical Misrepresentation.” Drug Safety 30:10 (2007): 831-836.

“Disease Mechanisms in Neuroscience.” Neuroscientist 14.2 (Apr. 2008): 138-138. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Goodwin, Matthew S. “Enhancing and Accelerating the Pace of Autism Research and Treatment: The Promise of Developing Innovative Technology.” Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities 23.2 (Summer2008 2008): 125-128. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Hackworth, Kimberly. “Increased prevalence rates of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” 28 September 2010

“Identifying Infants and Young Children with Developmental Disorders in the Medical Home: An Algorithm for Development Surveillance and Screening.” PEDIATRICS Vol. 118 No. (1 July 2006): 405-420.

“Key Genetic Finding for Autism.” USA Today Magazine 136:2749 (October 2007): 2.

Le Page, Michael. “False alarm.” New Scientist 169:2278 (17 February 2001): 17.

Lilienfeld, S., & Arkowitz, H. “Is There Really an Autism Epidemic?” Scientific American Special Edition 17(4), 58-61. Retrieved August 17, 2008, from Canadian Reference Centre database.

Munro, Neil. “Anxious about Autism.” National Journal 35.1 (08 Mar. 2003): 739. Points of View Reference Center. EBSCO. 28 July 2008.

Munro, Neil. “Missing the Mercury Menace?” National Journal 36.2 (03 Jan. 2004): 36. Points of View Reference Center. EBSCO. 28 July 2008.

Nicolson, Rob, and Peter Szatmari. “Genetic and Neurodevelopmental Influences in Autistic Disorder.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 48.8 (Sep. 2003): 526. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008.

“No link found between MMR jab and autism.” Practice Nurse 35.4 (22 Feb. 2008): 8-8. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008 Rust, S. “Autism epidemic doubted: But expert says tally of cases may be too low.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI), (Aug. 2007). EBSCO Online: Points of View Reference Center database.

”Rapid rise in Medicaid expenditures for autism spectrum disorder treatment.” 22 October 2010

“Understanding Autism.” Current Health 1 28.3 (Jan. 2005): 24. Points of View Reference Center. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Wadman, Meredith. “Autism study panned by critics.” Nature 454.7202 (17 July 2008): 259-259. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Wong, Kathleen M. “Do Vaccines Cause Autism?” Health 18.0 (Oct. 2008): 133. Points of View Reference Center. EBSCO. 28 July 2008.


Austism Society of America.

National Autism Association.

These essays and any opinions, information or representations contained therein are the creation of the particular author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of EBSCO Information Services.


Thesis: The increase in the number of autism cases diagnosed in the United States is the result of a genuine rise in the prevalence of the disorder, not simply improved diagnostic tools or an expansion of the types of cases that are classified as autism.

Summary: The rise in the number of autistic children in the US is not the result of better diagnostic tools or changes in the definition of autism. Instead, there has been, and continues to be, an increase in the true incidence rate of the disease since the 1990s. The cause for this surge in autism cases is unclear, but various theories have been put forth, many of which suggest that a genetic predisposition towards autism can be exacerbated by various environmental factors. The significance of the increase in the prevalence of autism should not be downplayed, and scientists need to treat the issue as a genuine public health concern.

The Burden of Autism

Imagine an infant who fails to respond with smiles, laughter, or curiosity to human interaction. Imagine a preschooler who avoids contact with others because he or she is unable to interpret emotional and social cues. Imagine children who have difficulty communicating, echo everything they hear, or fail to speak at all, who find even the smallest touch or sound painful to experience, or habitually engage in compulsive repetitive actions. Sadly, for the many Americans whose lives and families have been affected by the disease known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), these conditions are not at all difficult to picture.

The symptoms of autism are varied and complex, ranging from mild impairments to pervasive and severe problems that can result in an inability to participate in the joys and struggles of everyday life. Besides the more common symptoms of the disorder, autistic individuals may also be more prone to developing problems such as depression, anxiety, and seizures. No matter what point along the autism spectrum someone happens to fall, the diagnosis represents a lifelong complication that has a profound effect on many different aspects of a person’s social, emotional, and cognitive functioning. That is why the undeniable fact that autism is on the rise, in both the US and in countries across the globe, is so troubling.

Autism’s Ranks Swell

The increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism first became apparent to doctors and scientists in the final years of the twentieth century. During the 1980s, although the disorder was familiar to child psychologists around the country, it was still a relatively rare disease. During this time, only about one out of every 10,000 children born in the US could be expected to be diagnosed with the unique cluster of symptoms associated with autism. By the late 1990s, this figure had jumped an astonishing amount: approximately one out of every 5,000 children was being classified as autistic. By 2007, the year in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a startling report entitled “New Data on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) from Multiple Communities in the United States,” the prevalence rate of autism in the US was estimated to be as high as one out of 150.

The actual rate may be even higher than the CDC reports. An analysis of the CDC statistics, comparing them with figures from the US Department of Education that list the number of schoolchildren enrolled each year with autism spectrum disorders, suggest that the prevalence of autism in the US may be more like one in sixty-seven. Between the school years 2000-01 and 2006-07 alone, the number of students with autism increased by 125%.

Some have argued that the increasing number of children diagnosed with autism is merely a result of better diagnostic tools, increasing awareness of the disorder among both parents and doctors, and the fact that the way autism is defined has changed since the 1980s, thus pulling children under the umbrella of the disease who would not have been labeled autistic in the past.

If this were true, however, we would expect to see an increase in the number of adults and elderly people diagnosed with autism, too: individuals who have been living with the disorder for decades, but would only now start to be recognized by the medical community as being autistic. This has failed to materialize. In one study of adults who had never undergone a previous screening for autism, for instance, the incidence of the disorder among the participants was a mere 2.7 per 10,000, an extremely low rate. These results contradict the notion that the observed increase in the number of autistic children in the early twenty-first century is only, or even primarily, the result of higher rates of detection.

Possible Causes for the Autism Epidemic

If autism rates, and not just autism diagnoses, are truly on the rise, what is behind this marked increase? At the moment, no substantial body of evidence exists to definitively prove any of the prevailing theories about the cause of what some call the epidemic of autism. Because of the consistent timing of the onset of autism symptoms in most children, some autism activists have come to believe that there is a link between the disorder and childhood vaccinations. Most scientists reject the proposed connection between autism and vaccines. However, one thing many experts do agree on is that pointing to improved diagnostic tools or changes in the definition of autism alone cannot fully explain the increase in autistic children. There may be inherent genetic tendencies towards developing autism that are then triggered in some children by external factors such as the conditions of the womb, obstetric procedures, exposure to viruses, or environmental chemicals. Whatever the cause or causes are, some of what we are seeing is a genuine rise in incidence rates.

It would be comforting to believe that the increase in the number of autistic children does not represent a true epidemic. It would be comforting to believe that the only reason we are seeing this sharp escalation in the rate of incidence of the disease is the fact that scientists now understand brain functions better, and are better able to recognize signs of autism in children. Unfortunately, the statistics, and the experiences of the many parents, pediatricians, and school support service providers who have seen the floodgates of autism open since the 1990s, paint a different picture. They present a genuine and alarming cause for worry over the fate of our nation’s children. It is time to stop minimizing the problem and to start working harder to figure out both its source and solution.

Ponder This

1. How does the description of the symptoms of autism with which the author begins the article add to, detract from, or otherwise change the overall argument? Discuss.

· 2. Carefully consider the various statistics the author cites in the section “Autism’s Ranks Swell.” Which do you find the most convincing? Which do you find the least convincing? Explain.

· 3. How persuasive are the theories the author describes that attempt to explain the recent increase in the prevalence of autism? In your opinion, what kind of scientific evidence would be required in order to prove such theories?

· 4. Review the evidence the author provides to support the argument that the rise in autism rates is real, and not just a result of more diagnoses being made. Which evidence did you find most, or least, convincing? Why?

· 5. Does the author argue more effectively on how to arrive at a solution to autism or that autism is an increasing problem? Explain.



Coleman, Mary. “The Neurology of Autism.” Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.

Lathe, Richard. “Autism, Brain, and Environment.” Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley, 2006.

Moldin, Steven O. and John L R Rubenstein. “Understanding Autism: From Basic Neuroscience to Treatment.” CRC Press, 2006.


Jones, Hazel A. “Schema-Based Strategy Instruction in Mathematics and the Word Problem-Solving Performance of a Student With Autism.” Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities. 26.2 (06/01/2011). 87-95. Academic Search Complete.

Stichter, Janine P. “A Review of Parent Education Programs for Parents of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities. 26.2 (06/01/2011). 96-104. Academic Search Complete.

Walker, Jeffrey. “In-Home Training for Fathers of Children with Autism: A Follow up Study and Evaluation of Four Individual Training Components.” Journal of Child & Family Studies. 20.3 (06/01/2011). 263-271. Academic Search Complete.

Jackson, Darren. “Time to challenge the Rain Man stereotypes — the autistic mind can be spectacularly creative.” Times Educational Supplement.4943 (05/27/2011). 25-25. Academic Search Complete.

“Autism Prevalence Rises to 1 in 110 Children.” 19 January 2010

Bogo, Jennifer. “Hitting a Brick Wall.” E – The Environmental Magazine 11.2 (Sep. 2000): 40. Points of View Reference Center. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Bower, Bruce. “Risky DNA.” Science News 173.2 (12 Jan. 2008): 19-19. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Fatemi, S. Hossein. “The Role of Neurodevelopmental Genes in Infectious Etiology of Autism.” American Journal of Biochemistry & Biotechnology 4.2 (Apr. 2008): 177-182. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

“Genetics: Autistic details.” Nature 454.7202 (17 July 2008): 256-256. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Honey, Karen. “Attention focuses on autism.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 118.5 (May 2008): 1586-1587. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Lathe, Richard. “Environmental Factors and Limbic Vulnerability in Childhood Autism.” American Journal of Biochemistry & Biotechnology 4.2 (Apr. 2008): 183-197. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Novella, Steven. “The Increases in Autism Diagnoses: Two Hypotheses.” 26 April 2008

Pettus, Ashley. “A Spectrum of Disorders: The Urgent Search to Understand the Biological Basis of Autism.” Harvard Magazine (Jan/Feb 2008). Online. Accessed 31 January 2008.

Raloff, Janet. “Blood hints at autism’s source.” Science News 167.0 (4/16/2005): 254. Points of View Reference Center. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Rodier, Patricia M. “The Early Origins of Autism.” Scientific American 282.2 (Feb. 2000): 56. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. 28 July 2008

Warlick, Heather. “Autism Diagnosis Rates on the Rise.” The Oklahoman (9 October 2007). Online. Accessed 31 January 2008.


Autism National Committee. 28 July 2008.

Austism Society of America. 28 July 2008.

Center for Disease Control Media Relations. “CDC Releases New Data on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) from Multiple Communities in the United States.” (8 February 2007). Accessed 31 January 2008.

National Autism Association. “Autism Increases in the U.S.” Accessed 31 January 2008.

These essays and any opinions, information or representations contained therein are the creation of the particular author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of EBSCO Information Services.


By M. Lee

Co-Author: Rosalyn Carson-Dewitt

Rosalyn Carson-Dewitt received an MD from Michigan State University in 1991. She is a medical and scientific writer and was editor-in-chief for Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco: Learning About Addictive Behavior and Encyclopedia of Drugs, Alcohol and Addictive Behavior published by Macmillan Reference USA. Carson-Dewitt also worked on the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 18th edition.

error: Content is protected !!