By World Mercury Project Team
Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released the latest autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence estimate from its Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ADDM) network. Among children born in 2006, in the 11 states included in the report, ASD prevalence at age eight was one in 59 children. In the early 1980s, only 35 years ago, the rate of autism was about one in 5000. That means that autism is about 85 times more common in today’s middle schoolers than it was in their parents. That is why nobody who grew up back then knew a child with autism but today everyone does.
CDC’s complete lack of urgency regarding autism is reflected in the fact that the agency did not even bother to hold a press conference on the report. Instead, CDC repeats the same tired rhetoric that they are concerned, that they need to diagnose children earlier for services and that better diagnosis (this time of minorities) accounts for the increase.
The CDC report might as well be saying that one in 59 children has a hangnail for all the concern CDC expresses, when in fact, this is a public health disaster that will have repercussions for generations. At what point is the CDC going to admit that this disaster requires action? The largest amount by far of research dollars spent on determining causation has been directed towards genetics. “Genes don’t cause epidemics, environmental toxins do,” said World Mercury Project chair Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. “Why is the CDC doing nothing to identify the environmental toxins responsible for the most cataclysmic epidemic of our era?”
World Mercury Project calls for the following concrete actions:
Immediately create a dedicated and independent agency for autism.
- It is time to remove autism from the jurisdiction of an agency that gives it no attention or priority. In 2007, the CDC autism budget was $14 million, and ASDs affected one in 150 children. Ten years later, in 2017, CDC’s autism budget was $23 million and ASDs affected one in 59 —a 250% increase. If the rate of blindness in children had increased 250% in a decade, it would make front page headlines for weeks. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) classifies approximately 600,000 children in the school system as having autism. By way of comparison, CDC spent $394 million in 2017 on 1085 reported cases of Zika virus.
Fix the inadequacies of the current surveillance system under new leadership.
- Compared to the previous 2016 report from the 2004 birth cohort, the new ADDM report eliminates two states and adds two new states. Meanwhile, some of the participating states reduced their surveillance areas, while several states increased their access to educational records. These inconsistencies between reports make it difficult—or impossible—to compare changes over time meaningfully. If you consider the three states that have been consistently monitored and that have full access to educational records (Georgia, Maryland and New Jersey), the prevalence of autism is actually one in 46 children or 2.16%. The lack of rigor in these reports is unacceptable.