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Is there an autism epidemic?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says 1 in 88 children are now diagnosed with autism. We asked autism experts the question: Is there an autism epidemic? Here is a response from one of the world's most accomplished and well-known high-functioning autistic adults:

Temple Grandin, animal sciences professor at Colorado State University, author and livestock industry consultant on animal behaviour:

Mild autism or Asperger’s has always been here. I’ve worked in a technical industry for 40 years and . . . they’re everywhere. They just used to call these people nerds before . . .

One of the things that helped them (succeed) is that in the 1950s, they taught social rules. Kids were taught table manners, how to shake hands, how to say please and thank you. That was just taught to all children in the ’50s. So they were better able to cope in society.

However, I think severe autism — where children remain non-verbal into adulthood — has increased. I don’t think the total increase would be just the previously undiagnosed Asperger’s. That would probably only be half of it.

Environmental contaminants could be one (explanation). Older parents could also be a factor. One of the problems that a male has is that when he gets older, his sperm has to be copied every two weeks. He makes a copy of a copy of a copy. So as he ages, you get copying mistakes. Women have all their eggs from birth. They are not copied constantly . . .

Kids (today) don’t get enough exercise, they don’t have enough omega 3 in their diets . . . In the ’50s we ate a lot more wild fish. Also, there is more mercury and solvents in the environment.

The other thing is there are a lot more psychiatric and other types of drugs taken during pregnancy. Epilepsy drugs, anti-depressant drugs, a lot of these drugs weren’t taken during the ’50s.




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The Autism Project

  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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