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Generalizations

  • Posted on September 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

So, a basic assumption of statistics is that you can create a framework, select a random sample, and produce survey results that are generalizable to the general population. This has been asserted as a fact in every attempt I have made to study statistics. This time around I’m admitting right off the bat that I don’t buy it.

Maybe it’s that I don’t understand where this “fact” came from and how they reached the conclusion that it’s true. More likely, it’s the “fact” that I am and always have been something of an “outlier.” You cannot talk to someone who has the same age as me, the same gender as me, the same race as me, and who is living in the same area as me and conclude that their views (the answers to the survey) can be generalized to me.

This assumption of generalizability leaves out far too much that is of personal significance:

  • Would she have children?
  • Would her children have disabilities?
  • Would those disabilities include autism, sensory processing disorder, and epilepsy?
  • Would her children be teenagers?
  • Would she have a disability?
  • Would that disability be fibromyalgia?
  • Would she own her own business?
  • Would she be going to graduate school?
  • Would she already have a graduate degree?
  • Would she have dabbled in politics long enough to become disgusted with our system?
  • Would she vote despite that disgust?
  • Would she make every effort to be an informed voter?
  • Would she have experienced life below the poverty line?
  • Would she have struggled to lift her family out of poverty?
  • Would she have experienced life as a married teen mother?

I could go on and on. The point, however, has been made. The things that shape my answers cannot be attributed to my race, my age, or my gender—at least, not exclusively. My experiences—who I am—shapes how I see the world. And that shapes my answers to surveys. While I may be an outlier, I’m pretty sure the same is true of everyone else and that those generalized factors aren’t the major determinants of their experiences.

How can we possibly generalize people based on random attributes when those attributes aren’t really what makes them who they are?

Part of me wonders if inequality based on age, race, and gender persist with such prevalence because our society, at its core, still believes that those attributes really do determine who and what we are.

Prevalence Rising

  • Posted on April 13, 2012 at 8:00 AM

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.