Monday, October 30, 2006

A strategy to deny autistic lives

It was an historic occasion. Andy Scott's motion to create a National Autism Strategy for Canada was debated in the House of Commons last Friday, October 27. A record of this debate is here. It's a tribute to "autism advocacy" that all of Canada's political parties are determined to legislate an autistic-free Canada, the sooner the better. In fact, you can see the success of "autism advocacy" all over this historic debate, something I may try to get back to later.

For now, I'll concentrate on one of the greatest triumphs of Canada's leading "autism advocates". Here's Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla, taking her turn in the House of Commons' historic autism debate:

"Autism spectrum disorder is currently reaching epidemic levels. If we look 10 years back, statistics show that almost one in every 10,000 children was diagnosed with autism. However, in 2006 the statistics are quite shocking. One in 166 children is diagnosed with autism."

In other words, according to Ms Dhalla, there are very few autistics over the age of 10 in Canada. In fact, there would be only ~3,000 in the entire country. There would be less than 500 autistic children between the ages of 10 and 20, and not much more than 2,500 autistic adults, in the entire country.

Ms Dhalla is also saying that there are only ~25,000 autistics, of any age, in the entire country. And this very low approximate figure only applies if the prevalence of autism leaped from 1/10,000 to 60/10,000 (that's 1/166) overnight, about ten years ago. If Ms Dhalla is proposing a more gradual increase over the past ten years, then this would mean considerably fewer than 25,000 autistics in Canada.

Ms Dhalla is correct about the current-day consensual prevalence figure for the spectrum. But where does her figure of 1/10,000 for 10 years ago come from?

Eric Fombonne's Montreal data give an across-spectrum prevalence of 67/10,000 for children born 10 years ago, in 1996 (Fombonne et al. 2006). The two Baird et al. (2000, 2006) studies involved children born in 1990-1991, or at least 15 years ago; prevalence across the spectrum ranged from ~60/10,000 to ~100/10,000 (with the 2nd, very high figure being due to the ascertainment and diagnosis of high levels of secondary PDD-NOS). Chakrabarti & Fombonne (2001, 2005) found a high, stable prevalence across the spectrum of ~60/10,000 in children born between 1992 and 1998--that is, between 14 and 8 years ago. Honda et al. (1996) found a prevalence of the specific diagnosis of autism of ~21/10,000 in children born in 1988, 18 years ago; working from the cumulative incidence figure for that birth year (Honda et al., 2005), it would appear (I would stand to be corrected on this) that the across-spectrum prevalence would fall within the 60/10,000 range also. And so on. Ms Dhalla's 1/10,000 figure doesn't appear to come from the science, any more than her declaration of a "quite shocking" autism epidemic.

It seems more than likely that Ms Dhalla got her data from this "fact sheet" produced by two of Canada's leading "autism advocates", Brenda Deskin and Andrew Kavchak. This "fact sheet" has been widely distributed among Canada's political leaders, and is posted and promoted by Canada's most influential and politically active FEAT group. Ms Dhalla's contribution to the historic autism debate shows how seriously this "fact sheet" has been taken.

Canada has brand new 2006 census figures, so it's easy to compare the science (a high, stable rate of autism) to Ms Dhalla's "quite shocking" epidemic, the epidemic forcefully promoted by our most important "autism advocates":

The science says there are ~197,000 autistics in Canada in 2006. Ms Dhalla and our "autism advocates" say there are ~25,000 or less.

The science says there are ~26,000 autistic children from ages 10-19. Ms Dhalla and our "autism advocates" say there are less than 500.

The science says there are ~150,000 autistic adults in Canada. Ms Dhalla and our "autism advocates" say there are not much more than 2,500.

One of the major accomplishments of "autism advocacy" in Canada has been the denial of autistic lives. By anti-scientifically promoting an "epidemic" of autism, those who claim to represent all autistics in Canada are telling our leaders that the vast majority of autistics in Canada don't even exist. We aren't here and we were never here and we will never be here: we have no past, present, or future. Tens of thousands of autistic lives have been denied--stamped out, abolished, gone. "Autism advocates" are lobbying against assistance or accommodation for most autistics in Canada, by insisting that our lives are non-existent.

This erasing of autistic lives has clearly caught on among Canada's political leaders. These leaders can use the anti-scientific views of autism pushed by "autism advocates" to deny the obligation of governments to accommodate, assist, or even acknowledge the existence of most autistics in Canada.

Ms Dhalla's goal is an autistic-free Canada: she states directly that autism should be prevented. While waiting for this goal to be legislated and achieved, she has done an outstanding job of using anti-science to deny the lives of most autistic Canadians. That noise you hear is the sound of our celebrated "autism advocates", applauding as loudly as they can.


Baird, G., Charman, T., Baron-Cohen, S., Cox, A., Swettenham, J., Wheelwright, S., & Drew, A. (2000). A screening instrument for autism at 18 months of age: a 6-year follow-up study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 694-702.

Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., Meldrum, D., & Charman, T. (2006). Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP). Lancet, 368, 210-215.

Chakrabarti, S., & Fombonne, E. (2001). Pervasive developmental disorders in preschool children. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285, 3093-9.

Chakrabarti, S., & Fombonne, E. (2005). Pervasive developmental disorders in preschool children: Confirmation of high prevalence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 1133-41.

Fombonne, E., Zakarian, R., Bennett, A., Meng, L., & McLean-Heywood, D. (2006). Pervasive developmental disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Prevalence and links with immunization. Pediatrics, 118, 139-150.

Honda, H., Shimizu, Y., Misumi, K., Niimi, M., & Ohashi, Y. (1996). Cumulative incidence and prevalence of childhood autism in Japan. British Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 228-35.

Honda, H., Shimizu, Y. & Rutter, M. (2005). No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 572-79.