According to the CDC, 1 in 88 children in the US have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. These numbers come from 2000 and 2008 (i.e., they’re already old in comparison to some more recent studies using different, more timely methodologies in other locations), and are compared with the 1 in 110 that dates from 1998. While none of the prevalence estimates I’ve seen have lined up exactly, this trend towards more people with autism (versus less people with autism) seems consistent.
To my knowledge, there’s no one way to account for the increase. Increased awareness and assessment is certainly part of it. Parents are able, without as much difficulty, to persevere until they get a diagnosis, which wasn’t always the case. How much awareness and access to diagnostic assessment impacts these numbers is beyond my skill to deduce, but I doubt it can account for all of it.
Theories to account for this increase have included environmental and other man-made variables, such as vaccine poisoning. Vaccine theories don’t hold up with the continued increase, however, which suggests a combination of environmental and genetic causes.
In the past, I’ve made it clear (or tried to) that I’m not overly interested in the causes of autism. This doesn’t change that. Whatever the cause or causes, my children are who they are, and they deserve to be treated as human beings, and they deserve to be accommodated and accepted as who they are right now.
They are not broken. They don’t need to be fixed and they certainly don’t deserve to be devalued because they don’t measure up to some misguided perception of normal or perfection. I know the research into causation will continue. I know that we will look for the environmental triggers and genetic factors that may align in such a way as to cause autism. However that manifests, we must not forget that 1 in 88 isn’t just a statistic. We’re talking about people.