Thursday, November 27, 2008

Even more Autism Speaks epidemiology

In a May 2005 press release, Autism Speaks announced that there are "nearly 2 million people in the United States living with autism." More than three and a half years later, Autism Speaks claims that "1.5 million Americans may be affected with autism."

You would think that given their goals, Autism Speaks would be celebrating the reported--by Autism Speaks--disappearance of ~500,000 autistics in less than four years. But remarkably, this reported dramatic decline in number of autistics is instead considered by Autism Speaks to represent "a national public health crisis" and a "global epidemic of autism." What's more, Autism Speaks currently reports that

"the rate of autism is rising 10-17 percent annually. Unfortunately, the numbers appear to be continuing their upward climb."
Autism Speaks' epidemiology is characterized by two overlapping themes. One is an absurdly dishonest and contradictory reporting of the easily-available evidence. The other is a pervasive disrespect for autistics, whose lives Autism Speaks expediently and anti-scientifically denies.

In a previous post, I quoted a sentence that graces every Autism Speaks press release. Here it is again:

The prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade.
In this one widely-distributed sentence, Autism Speaks grossly misrepresents the scientific literature; rejects the scientifically sound position that there has been a high, stable rate of autism; and wipes out the lives of 90% of autistics who existed more than 10 years ago.

But this is still not sufficient for Autism Speaks' political purposes. Here are some more Autism Speaks statements about the prevalence of autism:

February, 2006: "a decade ago... 1 in 10,000"

March, 2006: "1 in 10,000 just 13 years ago."

April 6, 2006: "Thirteen years ago only 1 in 10,000"

March, 2007:"1 in 10,000 -- it was 13 years ago"

April, 2007: "Fourteen years ago only 1 in 10,000"

May, 2007: "it was 1 in 10,000 just 13 years ago"

May, 2007: "13 years ago, 1 in 10,000"

November, 2007: "1 in 10,000 just fourteen years ago"
In these statements, Autism Speaks is--at least--also erasing the lives of more than 98% of autistics who existed more than 14 years ago.

While any calculation is of necessity very approximate, if the epidemiology Autism Speaks widely disseminates is taken seriously, then public policy decisions would be based on there being not many more than 300,000 autistics in the US, of whom the vast majority (~270,000) would be young children. A very small number (~14,000) would be older children, and there would be very few (~22,000) autistic adolescents and adults.

And of course this is in total contradiction with Autism Speaks' claim that "1.5 million Americans may be affected with autism." Meanwhile, a science-based estimate would be 2 million autistics in the US, of whom about 500,000 are children (the number of autistic children, ages 0-21, in the US is estimated by the CDC to be 560,000).

In the 2007 UN resolution about World Autism Awareness Day, a resolution heavily influenced by Autism Speaks, virtually all autistics are presumed to be children (see also this message). There is no mention of autistic adults, just the "high rate of autism in children," and that autism is a disability "mostly affecting children."

Autism Speaks' autism advocacy message is getting around the world: autistics don't deserve the protection and benefit of even minimal standards of science, ethics, and advocacy; and older autistics do not exist and need not be considered.

[Conflict of interest declaration: I'm affiliated with a research group which receives funding from Autism Speaks, among other funding sources.]