Though it’s tempting to let that be the end of the article, I won’t do that. To me, it’s perfectly obvious why autism rates are rising. Let’s break down the five reasons behind this phenomenon.
At least, autism rates aren’t escalating at the level mainstream outlets perpetuate. More people are being diagnosed because we have a better picture of how autism looks across the whole of the spectrum, especially for women.
2. Again, it’s really not.
Now that acceptance and understanding are beginning to gain some ground, people are less hesitant to seek out a diagnosis. The hype that early interventions, which have been made more affordable (and often free), can dramatically improve outcomes for autistic children has positioned parents to be more inclined to talk to their children’s pediatricians about signs they see.
3. Yeah, not this either.
Pediatricians have new developmental indicators which screen informally for autism at well-child visits. Doctors and health care providers are more educated about the prevalence and presentation of autism, so they are more prepared to identify traits of autism in children before kids are even a year old.
4. Yeah, not here, either…
Since autism is genetic (likely always), parents with autistic children are seeing themselves in the readily-available literature about autism as they learn about their kids. So, again, autism itself is not on the rise for this reason, just autism diagnoses.
5. The internet. And college. This one is a thing for real this time.
So, we know that a great many of our IT pioneers are aspies whose hearts swell at the nostalgia of disassembling their calculators, rotary dial phones, radios, and busted cathode ray tube televisions to unlock the magic of these communication devices. Thus, a generation of little tinkerers grew to be big tinkerers, and in comes the technology era and the personal computer. By the late 90s, access to the internet was widespread.
So, you’re saying ya’ll really are half-robot?
No, not that. Focus, dammit.
Look at this chart of how partners met their spouses, and particularly note the pale blue line which denotes they met online:
Other sources have the the percentage of couples who meet online even higher. Now, look at the prevalence of autism rates over the last two decades:
So, what’s the connection?
Correlation doesn’t equal causation. But, it wouldn’t take too much of an intuitive leap to say that the introverted, socially-isolated outcasts of human history have found that outside the pecking orders which dominate local social hierarchies, there exists a world of other eccentric, highly-focused, similarly-minded people online.
Cue the romantic ballad…
The internet has made it easier for homebodies and those who don’t enjoy the traditional meet-and-greet methods to find each other. College, too, is more accessible to women and to those who haven’t come from a background of privilege. It’s also a place to meet other people with the same intense passions for art, literature, science, or just learning in general.
The Long and Short of Autism Prevalence
So, I would say that autism rates are the on the rise because autistic people are better positioned to find answers about themselves, they’re seeing themselves in their autistic kids, and they are finding each other online and in higher education. The internet has given a platform for autistic people to come together and find their soulmates, who are often also autistic, and they are increasing the odds of having an autistic baby.
My hope is that within the next decade, it will be acknowledged by the mainstream that the vast majority of autistics aren’t intellectually impaired, but that they have gone undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because the perception about what autism means is too narrow by the standards of mainstream practitioners.
I have a lot of hopes for the future of autistic people, and none of those hopes involve a cure. Instead, I hope that behavioral scientists and local professionals will listen to autistic people, researchers will use neural imaging to understand how autistic brains are different, employers will learn how to structure positions for autistic employees, and autistic people will inform therapeutic interventions for autistic adults and children.
In the meantime, this is just a tongue-in-cheek musing from an autistic psychology nerd and is not meant to be taken as scientific fact; however, there’s a lot more veracity and scholastic merit to this theory than the chemtrail, vaccine, or GMO quackery.
Vaccinate your children.