The Autism Racket

During July 2008, nationally syndicated talk show host Michael Savage ignited a firestorm with his comments about autism, calling it "a fraud, a racket."

In follow-up statements, Savage explained his views as being "meant to boldly awaken parents and children to the medical community's attempt to label too many children or adults as 'autistic.'"

While Savage's language was blunt, his concerns over the gross over-diagnosis of autism are valid.

Of course, the U.K. banned Savage from entry, in no small part because of his controversial views on autism, proving -- yet again -- that British governments, both Labour and Conservative alike, are incapable of tolerating serious critical and controversial thoughts.

The autism lobby is very vocal, and their intimidation of politicians -- especially in the center of the political spectrum, which is always most susceptible by manipulation from pseudoscience -- has been intense. But when a lobby is so hysterical, that is reason to question its motives and validity.

In Canada, the province of Saskatchewan is having an election, and financial assistance for parents of autistic children has become one of the key policy platforms for the governing party that is seeking a renewed mandate:

Starting in 2017, a Saskatchewan Party government will introduce and then increase funding for children under the age of six with Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]. The funding will start at $4,000 annually, increasing to $8,000 by 2019-2020.  The eventual goal is to provide individualized annual funding of $15,000 to $18,000 annually for children under six and $4,800 annually for school aged children under 18.

$18,000 per year per child for ASD? This will act like a magnet for dubious claims, and given the difficulty in even defining ASD clearly, never mind determining who has it and who does not, this fails to pass the sniff test for responsible government policy.

Even a cursory look at autism diagnosis data reveals serious problems.

In a 2008 article from the peer-reviewed journal "Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" -- which apparently used to be titled "Mental Retardation" before the thought and speech police outlawed this term -- Charles Holburn from the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities cites some troubling statistics. Several decades ago, the autism rate among children was 1-in-14,300. It rose to 1-in-150 by 2002. Now it is just 1-in-45 if we use the latest 2014 data.

As many researchers have noted, the increase in the rate of autism often comes with a corresponding decline in the rate of other intellectual disabilities, which undercuts the credibility of those claiming autism is a discrete affliction, and that there is some type of "autism epidemic." Holburn goes on to clearly enunciate the core moral hazard/slippery slope problem exemplified by pandering to the autism lobby: "If there is more funding available for autism services, clinicians may be predisposed toward the diagnosis if it brings the child in contact with more services."

In other words, bad parenting and other problems that lead to developmental challenges in children get replaced by an autism diagnosis. Those who clearly have terrible parenting skills -- feeding their children (and themselves) all sorts of junk food, a family life riddled with over-stimulation, etc. -- subsequently blame their faults on some mysterious ailment that, inevitably, does not reflect back on their failings as parents.

Bringing the discussion back to jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan, the latest Statistics Canada data shows that 20% of all youths aged 12 to 17 self-report as overweight or obese. A full 60% of the general population in the province is overweight, one-quarter self-classifies as obese, and 20% acknowledges they are heavy drinkers of alcohol. Even 15% of those in the 12 to 19 year old bracket confess to heavy alcoholic consumption.

The province isn't unique; we see these statistics throughout the United States and Canada.

What could possibly go wrong with these lifestyles? You certainly don't become obese from eating a responsible diet of fresh vegetables and fruits coupled to a reasonable amount of relatively unprocessed meats and grains. Many of the symptoms of ASD seem related to a poor diet, especially among young children. Crank up the parents and kids on high caffeine and sugar content beverages and processed foods laden with fat, more sugar, and salt -- and lacking a solid broad-spectrum nutritional base -- and it is less than surprising that autism is on the rise.

There is even some evidence, although very weak at this point, in the scientific literature that diet is related to autism.

Now add in the hyper-stimulated online world and spastic social culture to these parents and kids already suffering massive dietary deficiencies, and a recipe for disaster awaits.

Common sense in the field of public health has gone out the window. Savage was getting at this, albeit with statements that were designed to shock.

When the Saskatchewan Party costed out its autism policy proposal, it assumed "an annual average of 700 children under the age of six receive funding," based on the fact that "it is currently estimated that approximately 650-800 children under the age of six have ASD." This will almost certainly be a gross underestimate of actual costs. There are currently 105,000 children six-and-under in the province. At the known rates of increasing autism diagnoses, one could foresee actual applicants under the program being several-fold higher than anticipated.

Autism has become a poorly defined catchall dumping ground for children with various challenges. Some of these challenges are real; some are not. Some are hereditary, some result from environmental factors outside the control of parents, and large number of them perhaps are just the result of bad parenting.

We need to better determine where fault lies, and start punishing the parents financially for their poor decisions. The rest of the public should not be held responsible for the parenting deficiencies of a screaming lobby throwing blame on everything but where it truly lies -- themselves. Scarce public resources should only go to responsible parents. The irresponsible ones can pay for their own mistakes.

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