Thursday, May 7, 2009

new california autism report: more tax $$$$ wasted!

I see that the state of California Department of Developmental services has
a new autism report out. The media is putting their usual phony baloney spin on it. We see that the autism caseload has increased twelve fold in 20 years between 1987 and 2007. These reports are nothing new there have been two california reports previous to this, one in 1989 which the media made a big deal of and the 2003 one showing the prevalence of autism in the CDDS's regional centers by birth year.

These data are used to justify the claims that there is an autism epidemic. Persons such as JB Handley, Mark Geir, Mark Blaxill and Rick Rollens have used this data to promote their crusades that autism is caused by too much mercury and/or vaccines and to promote treatments of dubious value such as chelation and Lupron therapy. Dan Olmstead and David Kirby have used this data to pursue their journalist endeavors though neither has a dog in the fight (i.e. an autistic child of their own or an ASD)

On an interesting note, Rick Rollens stated that it was ironic that this report came out right at the time the state regional center was facing a $100 million budget cut in July. Is this really ironic, I wonder?-but more about that later.

Perhaps a less superficial look at the data than the San Jose mercury and others present are in order.

The report starts off with the following caveat:

Note to Readers:
The information presented in this report is purely descriptive and should not be used to draw scientifically valid conclusions about the incidence or prevalence of ASD in California. Numbers of people with ASD described in this report reflect point-in-time counts and do not constitute formal epidemiological measures of incidence or prevalence. The information contained in this report is limited by factors such as case finding, accuracy of diagnosis, hand entry, and possible error, by case workers of large amounts of information onto state forms. Finally, it is important to note that entry into and exit from California’s developmental services system is voluntary. This may further alter the data presented herein relative to the actual population of persons with ASD in California.

This caveat is invariably ignored by the media and by the sky is falling chicken little amateur epidemiologists who insist this proves their pet theory of a sudden environmental rise of autism.

Looking at the graph we see the rate of growth was not constant. The largest increase in growth took place between 1997 and 2002 and then while autism admissions continued to grow in the regional center the rate of growth slowed substantially, showing that if there is an autism epidemic it has slowed for some reason and if the pattern continues the growth may plateau at some point in time. This means the growth has been slower since the last report came out at the end of 2003.

There are 21 regional centers in the CDDS which serve various areas of California. The rate of growth is not similar between the various centers. We see by far the largest growth in the two Los Angeles area regional centers, the Lanterman regional center and the Westside regional center. We see that the growth rates are much slower in the various regional centers in rural parts of Northern California. This would have to mean there was something in the environment that was introduced in Los Angeles in the late 1980s that did not exist in the early 1980s but would have gotten worse starting in the late 1980s to the late 1990s and then was decreased in the late 1990s. These would not have existed in Northern California. For those folks who believe this is legit epidemiologic data such as maybe the age of autism web page or the above named individuals, they have their chance. Were vaccine rates different in Northern California than in Los Angeles. This would also seem to rule out the pesticides that some people thought were causing an epidemic of autism as they would be more likely to be used in Northern California than in Los Angeles. They can try to find patterns and trends. If there were such a pattern or trend I would think the MIND institute which seems to insist there is an epidemic of autism would have found it. I wonder why they haven't?

On another interesting note, at one time Simon Baron Cohen and others proposed that autism prevelance increases were due to selective mating between computer geeks. He and some other people, at least at one time, seemed to think there were correlations between places that had a lot of IT activity and autism. The data in this report would seem to refute that notion. The San Andreas regional center which serves the silicon valley with more IT companies and other engineering concerns such as Apple and Intel ranked 9th in growth rates over the past 20 years, well behind the growth rates of Los Angeles.

Looking at the growth in autism clients based on age we see that the number of people between the ages of 15 and 19 was less than a thousand in the year 2000 but more than 4,000 in the year 2007. If autism rates were really rising, this would mean that there was some new form of autism that had its onset at about age 10 or older that started in the year 2000. I wonder if anyone has an explanation for this phenomena.

An interesting item in this report is a comment on the gender ratio between male and female autistics:

Gender Ratio
The ratio of males to females with autism in the DDS system is 4.6 to 1. This pattern occurred for all ethnicities and for all types of residence status. The preponderance of males with autism compared to females occurred across all regional centers and in all counties in California. This finding is consistent across the scientific literature. For instance, in his review of over 30 studies, Fombonne in 2003 found that the mean gender ratio of boys to girls was 4.3 to 1. Volkmar (2006) reported a ratio of 3.5 to 1, while the CDC (2007) reported a ratio for ASD ranging from 3.4 to 1 to 6.5 to 1 across 14 states studied.
This gender ratio has shown a steady increase over the past 20 years. The rate rose from 3.4 to 1 in 1987 to 4.6 to 1 in 2007.

There has been one school of thought that this seemingly scientifically proved premise is false. There are just as many or more female autistics as there are males, but because of the fact that girls are more social than boys and might have other factors that would preclude their diagnosis, autism in girls has been underestimated. The state regional centers are wrong, these August autism researchers who have published this data are wrong and the CDC, which showed various ratios across 14 states is wrong. This usually comes from neurodiversity proponents who are often very disproportionally female in terms of what seems to be the number of the ratio in the general population of autistics based on this study when I have questioned whether these people are a true representative of autistic people. This was also an explanation given by Ivar Lovaas and Tristram Smith for the inequalities in their experimental group and control groups of the M:F ratio. However, the people who claim this have not yet offered any scientific evidence to the best of my knowledge. They would also have to explain why similar ratios have been found in other developmental disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia and stuttering in which the social factors would not matter as much.

Also there have been changes in the cognitive levels of persons with autism. In 1987 about 80% of the autistic regional center clients had intellectual retardation. This number is down to about 35%. These numbers also parallel findings in the literature by researchers such as Eric Fombonne who have shown rates of retardation in autistic people comparable to the regional center clients. Also the regional center show a linear correlation between increased ratios of male to female autistics and lack of intellectual retardation. This means that the proportion of autistic females who have intellectual retardation is greater than that for males. This further diminishes evidence for the arguments that so many female neurodiversitites are in any way a representative sample of persons with autism.

One of the arguments for those who believe there is a true rise in autism may be that the kids are coming into the regional center at younger ages and the children younger than 6 may not be able to have their intelligence tested in the same way. The fact these numbers have not diminished over time and nonretarded autistics seem to be on the rise would refute these arguments. So those who believe there is some environmental factor that has caused an increase in autism admissions to the regional centers would have to explain why this would just be an increase in persons with milder forms of autism and not the entire spectrum.

It seems that a lot of these trends, the sex ratios, the ethnicity of autism (which I have not discussed here because I really don't find it relevant to anything), the increase in nonretarded autistics, the increasing numbers were given in the two previous reports that were done at taxpayer expense. These reports really present no new information. I really don't understand what it is supposed to accomplish.

One possible explanation is that now that the regional centers are facing budget cuts due to the state of california now being in such dire straights, both due to the recession and to laws that require two-thirds of the state legislature to pass a budget and increased spending and many other factors was this report had a political agenda. Rick Rollens who has a severely autistic child started the MIND institute. He was a secretary in the state legislature at one time and has political influence. He lobbied the state legislature to do the MIND study some years back that was of questionable value and cost one million dollars to do. This study has yet to be published in a peer reviewed journal and most likely never will be. Perhaps this old worn out news and the media spin that has been put on it, was to try to take money from other programs in California and put it in the regional centers. Of course, this is totally speculation but one wonders about the timing.

As a (at least at one time) taxpayer in the state of California, this concerns me greatly. Persons such as Mark Blaxill who have never lived in California and have not paid a dime in California state income, property or sales taxes can exploit this data for their own means. I don't think this is fair.

I have a second cousin who works for the state of California who is being furloughed (sp??) from his job two days a month, just so California won't go completely bankrupt in these hard economic times. This has cut his salary by 10% while he struggles to support himself, a wife and a son. Governor Schwarzenegger has called for a special election on May 19 for a vote on ballot measures which he claims will help the state remain solvent if they are passed. This special election will probably cost California taxpayers considerable amounts of money and even assuming they are passed one wonders if they will give results in savings for California. I wonder how much it cost to prepare this report with the same trite and redundant information that was published in the previous two reports. The state of California is not putting on its thinking cap and we California residents lose. I had to be a victim of the shitty services of the state of California voc rehab department back in the mid 1980s. Perhaps this money could be better spent on vocational training for autistic people than putting out these inane reports which accomplish nothing.

I take this back. This report will only give further ammunition to David Kirby and Dan Olmstead to make money off the backs of autistic people to claim it proves there is some sort of "autism epidemic". It will allow Mark Blaxill to give his proof that there is a true rise in autism prevalence. It will allow whiny crybaby neurodiversitites to cry "foul". You have insulted me by claiming that I am an epidemic, are train wrecks or toxic waste dumps. This will give them an excuse to project their anger in their new blog posts. To insult persons like me who just wish that a future generation of children can have a happier childhood than I had and a better life than I have had. So I suppose this report and the accompanying media hype will accomplish something.


SM69 said...

Well, I don’t live in CA either, but these data are important to look at, which is what I was also doing yesterday. No great surprise here, I have different interpretations from you. I will comment more, maybe in a blog when I have more time. I thought I should say for now again, autism rate does not address issues of causalities. It reports trends in population, that is all. People do not link everything to mercury, by no means. With that respect, please know that Geier and Geier are merely very isolated figures in autism. Very few endorse their views, other than SBC as they fit his twisted testosterone theory, in which he somehow also fits the computer geek idea and the preferences for slim women as partners… definitely very twisted.

K said...


One of my complaints I've made to the Hub administrator as well as to Hub members is that the male to female ratio of autistics is nearly 6 to 4 on the female side. This is simply flabbergasting to me and makes me really call into question many who are claiming to be autistic there. It doesn't fit with my AS support group where its about 19 to 1, my child's classroom which is 9 to 1. It simply is incredible to believe in my opinion that the only group I see with that ratio is the Autism Hub.


jonathan said...

Yes, K, I agree. In our AGUA support group where the majority of members are not as high functioning as the majority of NDs seems to be, we have a ratio of about 10:1 male/female. The demographics of the neurodiversitites seems quite unique to me also.

Anonymous said...

At least 10% of autistic children recover according to this report, detractors say they weren't autistic to begin with: