Over the past few decades we have seen a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in children across the world. In the early 2000’s international studies identified ASD in around 1 out of every 150 children, but in July 2016, the Word Health Organisation set the prevalence at 1 out of every 68 children!
This is a huge increase!
The diagnosis is much more common in boys (1 out of every 42) than it is in girls (1 out of every 189), although this may be because it is harder to detect in girls (unless you are seeing a service with lots of experience with girls on the autism spectrum).
Along with this increase has come a host of attempts to answer the all important question. Why?
Explanations have ranged from Diet to Immunisations to Pollution, to Parenting styles…
And along with the suggested causes have come a host of “treatments” which claim to stop or heal the problem…
- Special diets
- Removal of toxins
- Avoiding immunisation
- Treating primal reflexes
- A host of special “therapies”
The most frustrating thing for me as a clinician, is to see families invest lots of time (and money!) into interventions for which there is NO credible evidence.
So why has the incidence increased so much? Because decades of great research have enabled us to reliably identify the signs and symptoms of ASD at earlier stages of development. In our clinics we can make reliable diagnostic decisions from 18 months of age, and there is now a host of international data that is getting the signs and symptoms down to 6-12 months.
With better diagnostic practices – there has been an increase in reliable diagnoses (in the past, many children simply lived life undiagnosed). Interestingly, when the diagnosis is given without a strong evidence-base (which has certainly happened in Australia), then the prevalence rate gets too high and is misleading. With strict, evidence-based diagnoses I suspect the rate would go back to something more like 1:100.
Sunday April 2nd marks World Autism Awareness Day (and kicks off Autism Awareness Month).
To all you wonderful parents who have the gift of a child on the spectrum – be reminded – you have done nothing to cause this condition… but you can do a lot to make sure your child lives life to their full potential.
1. Avoid the merry-go-round of alleged interventions and treatments which do not have a strong, tested, evidence-base. You can check up-to-date evidence for most treatment options at the following sites: www.asatonline.org and www.autismsciencefoundation.org
2. Invest your time and money into the things we know make a big difference for many children. You are better to focus on the things which prepare a child for future independence and employability, even from the earliest years. See https://www.autismspeaks.org/site-wi…/evidence-based-therapy
3. Make sure your health service providers and your preschool / school are a good match for your child. Do not be afraid to shop around and make changes.
4. Do all you can to really understand the heart and mind of a child with ASD… that wonderfully logical, rigid, opinionated, unique mind… the more you understand why they do and say the things they do – the easier the journey is. Sometimes we need to stop trying to force the ASD child into “our world” and spend a bit more time going into “their world” – they often have a great deal to teach us!
5. Finally, do not blame yourself... Just don’t do it! Would you let the parent of a child with epilepsy or diabetes blame themselves for something they did not cause?
[John Blythe Child Psychology: Blacktown, Hornsby, Macarthur and Richmond. 9622 9610]