Soaring autism; I envision loads of autistic children running down a grassy slope, arms outstretched, pretending to be aeroplanes. A few who enjoy a good spinning session could be helicopters instead. But sadly that's not what this post is about.
Last week, several newspapers published articles on increasing numbers of children in schools having diagnoses of autism. Among these were:
- Daily Telegraph: Number of children with autism soars by more than 50 per cent in five years
- Daily Mail: Number of schoolchildren classified as being autistic soars by 56% in five years
- Irish Independent: Number of children with autism soars by more than 50pc in five years
- Parentdish: Some parents claim their kids are autistic to gain advantage at school, claims expert
The NAS has a useful, detailed and well referenced article about autism numbers and concludes "it appears that a prevalence rate of around 1 in 100 is a best estimate of the prevalence [of autism] in children".
However these articles all open with a discussion of how the number of children in schools diagnosed with autism has doubled in the past and with current figures of approximately 1 in every 125 pupils. I fail to see the problem. Autism is a common condition. It was under-diagnosed for years, the criteria were much stricter so that many people who have a disability were not getting enough support. Now the criteria have been widened, there is better recognition of the condition and more children are getting accurate diagnoses.
Furedi is quoted in each of the articles as saying,
"It is unlikely to be a genuine unprecedented increase in autism, rather an institutional use of this condition to allow people to get easier access to resources. This activity ends up trivialising what is a very serious condition for some children."That's the opinion of a man with zero expertise in autism. He presents no facts to back up his claims and he can quite easily be ignored.
The CRE spokesperson says,
"Obviously children with autism need special treatment. But the rapid increase does suggest that perhaps the figures should be looked at again.
Children should not be classified as having special needs too easily. The rise should be examined closely because it has a knock-on effect for teachers, schools and the pupils themselves."
Clearly I checked out reference  to see where those numbers come from- and was baffled to find that it was an old article by Minette Marrin in the Daily Telegraph. For real! This is what counts as reference-worthy to the CRE.
Minette Marin is one of those click-baiting troll columnists and I've discussed her before after her vicious and hateful piece calling babies with Down Syndrome and their families "damaged babies" and "damaged families". The only other person in the CRE list of references with whom I'm familiar is Melanie Phillips.
This is speculation presented with no evidence that the needs of disabled children are being exaggerated. The CRE are not worth listening to.
The NAS spokesperson makes a typically sensible contribution to the discussion:
"We know that with accurate diagnosis the right support can be put in place so that children with autism can reach their full potential. It’s very likely that all teachers and school staff will come into contact with children with autism at some stage during their teaching career, so it’s vital that they receive quality training and strategies to support these children in the classroom."As usual the comment sections on these articles descend into a mire of anti-scientific, disablist nonsense.
I can't imagine why the CRE and Frank Furedi were considered worth quoting on these matters. I wish the papers would look more closely at the people sending them stories and examine their agendas.