Autism Rates Rise Again, But There's More to the Story

The CDC announced that 1 in 45 kids are now diagnosed with ASD, the highest rate ever. But here's why we shouldn't panic.
Autistic boy holding a red balloon

Autism rates may have risen again, but there's no reason to panic. Yes, the CDC announced last week that 1 in 45 kids are now diagnosed with ASD, but many articles have already pointed out how this increased number reflects the way researchers asked parents questions. It seems that changing the way questions were worded and including more detail about what traits comprised an autism spectrum disorder opened up the possibility that a wider range of kids would be included.

But even with that in mind, it's easy to wonder: Have autism rates actually gone up? Beyond technicalities, do we now have more autistic kids in our midst than we did a few years ago?

Certain alarmist factions in the autism debate would say yes, and then words like "epidemic," "disease," and "cure" would get tossed around irresponsibly.

But, really, even the scientists who did this study don't think that's the case. They are basically saying that 1 in 45 autistic kids were already here, we just didn't quite organize them in the same way.

I can see how it's a matter of classification, but there's also room here to note that we shouldn't panic about the new ASD rate because being autistic is not a bad thing.

I'll say that again: Being autistic is not a bad thing.

Before you shout me down saying if I understood the real challenges involved in raising an autistic child I wouldn't make such a claim, let me assure you I do get it. My son Liam, a non-speaking autistic 7-year-old, doesn't sleep much, he struggles to communicate, and he can be quite a handful (a cabinet-climbing, always-snacking, often-bouncing handful who has wild tantrums almost every day). I also understand that my challenges in parenting Liam pale in comparison to his own challenges as he tries to make his voice heard, his thoughts known, and as he moves through a world full of sensory pitfalls.

But I still think that being autistic is not a bad thing, and many adults, teens, and children are speaking out (through typing, signing, and other ways) to let us know that.

Raising autism rates means that we now know that 1 in 45 kids have a different neurology. It does not mean they are broken, diseased, or sick. And difference is not a bad thing, especially if we can accept it, accommodate it, and find ways to help celebrate it. So, even if this number keeps climbing, I don't think we should panic. I think we should find ways to support autistic children, teens, adults, and their families. And a good first step towards that is saying, "There you are. I see you. I see your difference. I accept it, and I'm so glad you're here with us."

Jamie Pacton lives near Portland where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com and Twitter @jamiepacton.

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