AUTISM: Is California Experiencing an Epidemic?
A new study shows that the number of autistic children enrolled in California's regional programs increased 210% between 1987 and 1998, raising concern that the state is experiencing "an autism epidemic." Nearly 12,000 autistic children were enrolled in the Department of Developmental Services' 21 regional programs last year, up from about 3,900 in 1987; enrollment of children with other disorders only increased 30% to 40% over the same period, the Los Angeles Times reports. Study author Ron Huff of the department said, "Autism is increasing at an alarming rate. That raises a lot of questions." California may not be alone: Dr. Eric London of the National Alliance for Autism Research said, "There is absolutely no doubt the numbers are going up nationwide, even worldwide." However, it is not clear if the increase reflects more children with the disorder, or just "more common diagnosis and greater awareness." The disorder, marked by severe isolation from the world, poor language skills and an inability to handle social relations, has been treated with intensive behavioral therapy, and there is some anecdotal evidence that Prozac and secretin have brought "marked improvement." Experts have "speculated the syndrome is induced by infectious agents or by an allergic reaction to foods, such as proteins in milk. Others blame an allergic reaction to vaccines." Indeed, British parents have filed a suit against a mumps-measles-rubella vaccine manufacturer. The Institute of Medicine's Kathleen Stratton said, "Childhood vaccine safety is very contentious, very emotional," but a link to autism "has not been proved by any means" (Maugh, 4/16).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.