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Mind Storm

The definition of Autism: too broad, or more accurate because of better testing?

A friend this week referred to her "autism tendencies" and how they help her creativity as an artist.

This reminded me of something that's puzzled me for the last year about autism:

Five years ago I heard public service announcements on the radio that said the odds of a child being diagnosed with autism are 1 in 150. Two years ago the number had dropped to 1 in 88. Last year a report aired on the local news that said the number was 1 in 55. Which led me to wonder:

1.) Are more people in general being diagnosed with autism because of better testing of people?

2.) Has the definition broadened so much that more people fall into what's called the "autism spectrum" who wouldn't have been classified as autistic 10 years ago?

If No. 1, is it caused by all the chemical crap still in our air, water and processed foods despite 40-plus years of seriouly tackling pollution in America? Do today's autistics inherit genetic abnormalities caused by unrealized mutations in the bodies of their parents and grandparents because we didn't tackle the pollution problems 50 and 60 years ago?

If No. 2, why did definitions get broader? It's like broader definitions of ADD and ADHD to justify putting more kids on Ritalin and other pills (and enriching the drug companies); maybe some ADD and ADHD kids don't have attention deficit disorders as much as attention boredom, that is, are so intuitive and highly creative that they stifled by the standard classroom setting and get incredibly restless.

It's also like definitions in America of mental health "issues", racial/sexual/workplace discrimination, and definitions of "disability": the latest diagnostic manual for psychological disorders, according to news I read and saw last year when it was issued, seems to classify every real or perceived "problem" as a disorder that needs resolution with meds or time on the psychiatrist's couch.

I am not calling autistics crazy or lazy, as the venomous talk radio host Michael Savage apparently does (or did; he might have changed his tune). Savage claimed on his show a few years ago that 99 percent of autistics are faking it and just need a good smack to get their attention. He took intense flak for his remarks. Degrees of autism range very widely, I know that. I don't know what causes autism, but assume the brain doesn't process perceptions correctly according to whatever function is considered "normal".

This is something for me to learn more about in 2014.

I raised the two questions because over the years I've sensed a tendency in America to turn more and more behaviors into a medical condition to escape responsibility for detrimental behvior. Like the rich teenager a few weeks ago whose attorney said his client shouldn't be severely punished because he suffered from "affluenza" — his parents spoiled him so rotten that he didn't understand right from wrong. I think the case was a DUI that killed people.


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