Autism Over Diagnosis?

autismAutism over diagnosis? The CDC states that one in every sixty-eight children in the US is born with autism. This is a significant increase from two years previously when it was only one in every eighty-eight children. According to KTVN, Pat Ghezzi who co-founded The Early Childhood Autism Program back in 1995 says he is alarmed with the new numbers, and thinks there is evidence of improved diagnosis and a little bit of over diagnosis as well. The CDC denies this saying the 30 percent jump in autism diagnosis is not over diagnosis.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that ranges from mild to severe. In milder cases children are often given a diagnosis of Asperger’s due to social difficulties and other symptoms. In more severe cases children are non-verbal, perform self-stimulation (repetitive body movements or repetitive movements with objects) and are sometimes violent. The character Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory is one of the more well-known cases of suspected Asperger’s. He is organized to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder, has difficulty reading the facial expressions and emotions of his friends, does not like intimacy and has trouble making new friends. It is generally the Asperger’s patients who are over diagnosed. This is a difficult subject matter and not everyone will agree but there are instances in which children with severe behavioral problems and difficulty making friends may be diagnosed with Asperger’s accidentally or intentionally to get them the services they need. Unfortunately sometimes they receive the wrong services and it doesn’t help them at all.

There was no explanation from the CDC as to the specific reason for the rise in diagnosis but according to The Boston Globe, CDC officials said that we are getting better at identifying autism and that increased awareness is helping. One doctor said something very interesting that may explain autism over diagnosis in a nutshell. Dr. Sarah Spence, co-director of Boston Children Hospital Autism Spectrum Center said that kids may get labeled with autism disorder because that is the best way to get them the help they need in school but she doesn’t think over diagnosis is a big aspect of the rising rates of diagnosis.

According to Hilda Bastian in Scientific American, there is an epidemic of over diagnosis in our society that is causing problems. She says that the number of people being diagnosed with serious diseases in the name of early diagnosis and prevention is growing. As the number of diagnosed patients grows, the chances people will know someone who is diagnosed increases and the “shadow of fear of disease spreads.” Another interesting thing she says is that the lure of prevention has become a key factor in the over-medicalization of our lives and creates fear of disease in the healthiest generation the world has ever seen.

Hilda Bastian is correct, the fear of disease is palpable in our society and one must truly be cautious of becoming too fearful of disease; however, early prevention is also very important. One must be cautious of autism over diagnosis because it can create more problems than it solves, including the delegation of unneeded or incorrect services and the incorrect labeling of someone with a disease they do not actually have. The advent of awareness of autism is significant and positive but it must be mitigated with caution as doctors are fallible and it is possible to over diagnose the disease.

Opinion by: Nicole Drawc


Scientific American
Boston Globe