Abstract: Three Reasons Not to Believe in an Autism Epidemic

GERNSBACHER, M. A., DAWSON, M., & GOLDSMITH, H. H. (2005). Three reasons not to believe in an autism epidemic. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 55-58.
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According to some lay groups, the nation is experiencing an autism epidemic—a rapid escalation in the prevalence of autism for unknown reasons. However, no sound scientific evidence indicates that the increasing number of diagnosed cases of autism arises from anything other than purposely broadened diagnostic criteria, coupled with deliberately greater public awareness and intentionally improved case finding. Why is the public perception so disconnected from the scientific evidence? In this article we review three primary sources of misunderstanding: lack of awareness about the changing diagnostic criteria, uncritical acceptance of a conclusion illogically drawn in a California-based study, and inattention to a crucial feature of the ‘‘child count’’ data reported annually by the U.S. Department of Education.