25 May 2005

Autism Inflation

A Forbes OpEd on autism
Autism's sharp rise is, in large part, a matter of definitions. Is a child with severe learning problems autistic? What about a child who is insensitive in social situations? What about children who have trouble communicating or seem to retreat into their own shells? These days a large number of children who fit any of those descriptions are likely to be tagged with the autism label, or their parents will be told that they have a disorder (like Asperger's syndrome) that falls somewhere in the autism spectrum.

No argument here, offhand, except that they say it like it's a bad thing.

This looseness of definition is getting in the way of medical progress. We will not find effective cures for autism until we add biological markers to behavioral symptoms in diagnosing children.

This, however, I'm not so happy with. I get too strong a feeling of the steam-roller of technological progress. Ve vill overcome this veakness! (Apologies to any German contingent) A lot of auties will tell you they don't particularly want to be cured, especially since that which would be cured can feel like a large part of one's very self.

The currently preferred treatment for children exhibiting early signs of autism is enrollment in intensive behavioral programs. These programs involve one-on-one interactions between the child and the therapist from 20 to 40 hours per week. Scientific studies of the most popular of these programs have shown modest results. Although intensive behavioral therapy can reduce the frequency of certain autistic behaviors for certain children, it does not cure the basic language and emotional deficiencies of most autistic children.

Those intensive behavioral programs can be sorta' controversial in their own right.

Jerome Kagan, professor of psychology at Harvard, and Robert Pozen, chairman, MFS Investment Management

Kagan seems to have had some experience on an advisory board of the Boston Higashi school, an intensive behavioral program that received some bad press of it's own a few years ago. (The bad press links to a reposting of a Wall Street Journal Online article from 2002.)

Pozen, of course, is that well-known expert on autism. psychology. mental health. disability. wealth, power and social security.

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