November 30, 2006


How Many Kids Have Autism? (Carl Bialik, November 30, 2006, Wall Street Journal)

How important is it to accurately count the number of children with autism? Does the one-in-166 number seem too high, or too low, or accurate? Do you generally believe statistics on the number of people suffering from conditions? Do such numbers affect your opinions?

Autism experts told me that research broadly supports the estimate -- with two major caveats. Those caveats help explain why the stat, while alarming, doesn't support related claims by some advocates: that autism cases have been mushrooming with "epidemic speed," and that more than one million Americans have autism.

First, the stat comes from figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on a review of several studies that came up with estimates. But the CDC was careful to point out that the studies produced a wide range of results. Indeed, the headline-grabbing number focuses on the worst-case scenario: The CDC said the number of children with autism was somewhere between one in 500 and one in 166.

Second, the numbers take into account a relatively modern definition of autism that includes a full range of disorders. The changing definition of autism has played a major role in influencing statistics.

Fiddle the definition enough and the experts can get a 1 to 1 ratio. Then the grant money will really roll in...

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 30, 2006 9:32 PM

And TV takes care of the rest.

There is growing evidence that TV for the very young is a factor here.

I've read a few rewiews and half a book that indicate that it likely plays a role in ADD and ADHD as well.

But go ahead and strap them in the MiniVan with the DVD player. You can just slip the DVD into the tv in their room when you get home.

Posted by: Bruno at November 30, 2006 9:48 PM

Jeez, it's tv b/c 2 economists think so?

Sorry, not buying.

The corolary to overdiagnosis is that everyone and his brother will come up with some study blaming something that they don't like for the supposed phenomenon.

oj's going to do a study which will conclude that some combination of witches, Darwinists, soccer fans, and Eric/Julia are responsible.

In my study it'll turn out to be Red Sawx nation.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 30, 2006 10:11 PM

If you thought there was little agreement between scientists around the causes of evolution, take a look at this..

Posted by: Macduff at November 30, 2006 10:38 PM

I think Orrin is very close about fiddling with definitions. With those folks it doesn't matter which comes first. Come up with a plausible treatment and they'll come up with an ailment to fit it.

Posted by: Tom Wall at December 1, 2006 3:06 AM

Shouldn't that be, "sell an expensive, implausible treatment at your local health food store, and they'll come up with aliments to fit it"?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at December 1, 2006 12:00 PM


Have you seen any of the science shows that illustrate the impact that watching TV has on the brain?

Even taking overdiagnosis and similar things into account, the increase in these disorders has to be explained by something.

Whatever the impact TV has on an adult, it is likely to be far greater on infants and toddlers, whose minds are developing, and therefore much more impacted by their environment.

Remember that these types of things develop at the margins. TV doesn't have to cause 100% of autism. All it needs to do is trigger - and or interact - with other latent factors.

As for economists...many great breakthroughs through time have been from people outside a general domain.

As for expensive treatment...all you have to do is turn it off.

Posted by: Bruno at December 1, 2006 3:50 PM

TV just has to coincide with the desire of parents and educators to see children diagnosed. It's just as easy to show that TV contributes to AIDs, and just as silly.

Posted by: oj at December 1, 2006 5:23 PM