June 11, 2007
Autism & Prevalence
Thanks to Sheila for covering the blog while I was traveling! In case it's of interest, our usual schedule will be Sheila covering Monday through Wednesday, with me doing the balance of the week, but we both can chime in when we notice something. Like this:
Triggered by hearings in the Court of Federal Claims about the alleged-but-sketchy-at-best link between vaccines and autism, there's a useful Times op-ed today noting the numerous reasons that measured rates of autism might increase other than an actual increase in incidence. The conclusion:
What does this all mean? First, we should be wary of “epidemic” claims and percentage increases based on administrative data. Second, we should not be surprised if school counts of children with autism continue increasing as they play catch-up to the number who truly have autism.
We want to be very clear: our results do not mean we have nothing to worry about. Scientific and clinical advances have improved our ability to identify autistic children and to differentiate their unique needs from those of children with other types of developmental disabilities. But schools and other social service systems are unable to keep pace with these changes or give the children the help they need.
Research to discover what causes autism, including possible environmental triggers, must be a top priority. However, autism is not purely a medical puzzle — as we invest in new ways of understanding autism, we have a corresponding responsibility to invest in the capacity of our schools, medical centers and social workers to provide up-to-date treatment for those with the condition and support services for their families. In the end, we should not have to deliver a verdict on whether there is an epidemic to fulfill these obligations.
In something that's very cool, the Court of Federal Claims is making audio available of the trial.
(My usual disclosure: I do a small amount of work for pharma companies. I have not done anything in the vaccine arena, though my old firm does, I believe.)
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