It’s easy for many skeptics to jump to the conclusion that autism is being over diagnosed. Sensationalism and misunderstandings about the developmental disorder is routinely reported throughout various media outlets. Also, countless campaigns and awareness groups have raised the condition to a higher level of exposure to the public.
The specter of the condition has been cast as some sort of a boogeyman; the message is that it’s an out-of-control “disease” that must be feared. While this tactic may raise the awareness level of Autism, it can also be counterproductive and misleading – something many skeptics are aware of.
However, when one looks past the media hype and aggressive public relation campaigns, there appears to be some truths that even the most harden denier can’t ignore. The numbers of diagnosis is growing, and will continue to do so in the future.
Surprisingly, autism is an under-diagnosed condition. By its nature, it affects people in different ways and can be so mild that initial diagnosis could have missed it. Also, diagnostic tools, criteria and knowledge of Autism are either being improved or discovered. As a result, more people are being recognized as having the condition than previously thought.
First of all, the full name of autism is autism spectrum disorder (and, it is not a disease). It is a developmental disorder that can affect one’s social skills such as language, empathy, and reading body languages of others. Also, it is characterized by repetitive habits, sensitivity for tactile activities, and fixations with an object or subject.
The spectrum is based on the severities of the conditions. On one end of the spectrum, it is mild. The person with “high-functioning” autism, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, has the abilities to function in a general education setting and may appear normal with only a few “quirks” in their manners. In fact, some will show huge strides in a particular academic field. It’s not uncommon for people with high functioning autism to attend college and pursue advanced degrees.
On the other end, the person can be nearly incapacitated – physically, emotionally, and intellectually. They will be dependent on others for the rest of their lives. The most extreme cases tend to be non-verbal or seemingly “stuck” in their own world.
Although a majority of those diagnosed with autism would fall in the upper part of the spectrum, a lot of media attention has been given to those at the low end. In part, this has given a distorted view of what autism is. On top of that, it has most likely scared most people.
Critics are correct when they point this fact out. It is a scare tactic that garners a lot of attention, as well as creating distortions. However, many of these same critics fail to notice that there are other factors to consider. With scientific advancements, the slate of diagnosis is revealing a much broader picture of the number of cases, and shedding a light on what had been missed in the past.
Another aspect to autism is that it may have been around for a long time. A person with autism may have been that odd kid in the back of the classroom who unintentionally became the class clown; she could have been that socially awkward teen who sat alone in the cafeteria. Or it could have been that boy who always came to school with the same clothing, despite how rank it smelled.
Research into autism spectrum disorder has opened up the world of the autistic person, and included more people into this distinct group. In many respects, these new discoveries mean that more people may have it, but have never been tested for it.
With the current atmosphere of media hype –accompanied with exaggerations or distortions of the fact – it’s easy to dismiss the rising number of diagnosed autism as being a case of over-diagnosis. However, once, one takes a closer look at the matter, the reality it there: autism has been around for years, and it is now being diagnosed at alarming numbers.