Exploring the Identity of Autistic Individuals: Reconstructing the Autism Epidemic Myth
Currently, there is much discussion in print, online and television media across the world about the “autism epidemic”. Although the rates of diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have increased, it could not accurately be described as an “epidemic”. This chapter begins with an examination of the origins of this myth and an overview of studies, which have measured the prevalence of autism spectrum diagnoses. It then explores current theories surrounding the increasing numbers of individuals who have received a diagnosis of ASD, with specific attention to the changing diagnostic criteria and greater awareness of the autism spectrum among parents, teachers and healthcare professionals including paediatricians and psychologists. The impact of this myth for the autistic community will be explored, and the implications of a neurodiversity paradigm on revising perceptions around the autism epidemic myth will be discussed. The chapter will conclude with an exploration of the benefits of shifting current thinking from viewing the increasing prevalence of autism as an “epidemic” to be stopped, to developing a consciousness of autistic individuals as comprising part of the natural variation of society who encompass a range of strengths and needs.
KeywordsHistory and diagnosis of ASD Prevalence Incidence Public awareness Neurodiversity theory
- American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders—Fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.terapiacognitiva.eu/dwl/dsm5/DSM-IV.pdf.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). Autism in Australia. Canberra, Australia Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4428.0Main+Features12012?OpenDocument.
- Beighley, J., Matson, J., Rieske, R. D., Jang, J., Cervantes, P. E., & Goldin, R. L. (2013). Comparing challenging behavior in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders according to the DSM-IV-TR and the proposed DSM-5. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 16(6), 375–381. https://doi.org/10.3109/17518423.2012.760119.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Belcher, C., & Maich, K. (2014). Autism spectrum disorder in popular media: Storied reflections of societal views. Brock Education: A Journal of Educational Research and Practice, 23(2), 97–115.Google Scholar
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Data & statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.
- Coplan, J. (2016). Autism epidemic or explosion? (And why it matters). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/making-sense-autistic-spectrum-disorders/201607/autism-epidemic-or-explosion-and-why-it-matters.
- Frame, C. (1962). Children in chains. The Evening News.Google Scholar
- Gibbs, V., Aldridge, F., Chandler, F., Witzlsperger, E., & Smith, K. (2012). Brief report: An exploratory study comparing diagnostic outcomes for autism spectrum disorders under DSM-IV-TR with the proposed DSM-5 revision. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(8), 1750–1756. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-012-1560-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Grandin, T. (2013). The autistic brain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.Google Scholar
- Grinker, R. R. (2008). Unstrange minds: Remapping the world of autism. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- Hansen, S. N., Schendel, D. E., & Parner, E. T. (2015). Explaining the increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders: The proportion attributable to changes in reporting practices. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(1), 56–62. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.1893.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2(3), 217–250.Google Scholar
- Lorenz, T., Reznik, N., & Heinitz, K. (2017). A different point of view: The neurodiversity approach to autism and work. In M. Fitzgerald & J. Yip (Eds.), Autism: Paradigms, recent research and clinical applications. InTech: Open Access.Google Scholar
- Lupton, D. (2013). Moral threats and dangerous desires: AIDS in the news media. Routledge.Google Scholar
- Maenner, M. J., Rice, C. E., Arneson, C. L., Cunniff, C., Schieve, L. A., Carpenter, L. A., … Durkin, M. S. (2014). Potential impact of DSM-5 criteria on autism spectrum disorder prevalence estimates. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(3), 292–300. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.3893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- McGhee, R. (2017). Sensory-friendly playground helping people with autism to feel safe and calm. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-29/sensory-friendly-playground-helping-people-with-autism-qld/9292498.
- McGuire, A. (2012). Representing autism: A sociological examination of autism advocacy. Atlantis: Critical Studies in Gender, Culture & Social Justice, 35(2), 62–71.Google Scholar
- McPartland, J. C., Reichow, B., & Volkmar, F. R. (2012). Sensitivity and specificity of proposed DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(4), 368–383. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2012.01.007.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Özerk, K. (2016). The issue of prevalence of autism/ASD. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 9(2), 263–306.Google Scholar
- Pew Research Center. (2008). Health news coverage in the U.S. media. Retrieved from http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/legacy/HealthNewsReportFinal.pdf.
- Robertson, S. M. (2010). Neurodiversity, quality of life, and autistic adults: Shifting research and professional focuses onto real-life challenges. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(1), 27.Google Scholar
- Romoser, M. F., & Baker, D. L. (2012). The politics of neurodiversity: Why public policy matters. Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, 8(1), 78.Google Scholar
- Sheldrick, R. C., & Carter, A. S. (2018). State-level trends in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from 2000 to 2012: A reanalysis of findings from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Network. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3568-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Silberman, S. (2010). Exclusive: First autistic presidential appointee speaks out. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2010/10/exclusive-ari-neeman-qa/.
- Sinclair, J. (1993). Don’t mourn for us. Retrieved from http://www.autreat.com/dont_mourn.html.
- Sontag. (1990). Illness as metaphor and AIDS and its metahpors. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
- Volkmar, F. R., & McPartland, J. C. (2014). From Kanner to DSM-5: Autism as an evolving diagnostic concept. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10(1), 193–212. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032813-153710.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Yeargin-Allsopp, M., Rice, C., Karapurkar, T., Doernberg, N., Boyle, C., & Murphy, C. (2003). Prevalence of autism in a US metropolitan area. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 289(1), 49–55. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.289.1.49.