Find cause of autism epidemic
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 16:04
The United States continues to have the highest rates of autism in the Western world, according to recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 88 children are diagnosed with some form of the disorder.
This new estimate has nearly doubled since 2002 and has increased 25 percent since 2006, according to Reuters.
The recent numbers have revived a clash among experts over the reason for the spike in autism diagnoses. Some say the rise can simply be attributed to better detection rates. Others say the neurobiological condition could be caused by environmental factors.
The longstanding scientific consensus was that 90 percent of autism risk was genetic. But a 2011 study of twins by scientists at Stanford University found that genes account for only 38 percent of autism risk, according to Reuters. Environmental factors were found to make up 62 percent of autism risk.
One thing’s for certain: There are many children and families in our country struggling with this disorder. And impoverished families, in particular, often cannot afford therapies that can help victims of this disorder return a sense of normalcy to their lives.
Just recently, a Miami federal judge blasted Florida health care regulators for refusing to pay for critical therapy for autistic children from impoverished families. U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard ruled that this lack of care puts children at risk of “irreversible” harm that might otherwise be avoided.
Under the new ruling, our state’s Medicaid insurance program must begin paying for a psychological program “called applied behavioral analysis, designed to improve the behavior, language and cognitive development of autistic children,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration had argued that “behavioral therapy is an experimental treatment that is not widely accepted by experts in the field.”
Florida already mandates that private insurance companies provide coverage for this type of therapy. Lenard’s ruling, though overdue, will help close this gap.
The bottom line is that we must continue to relentlessly study the causes behind this scary rise in autism rates. According to the research group Autism Speaks, the costs associated with autism amount to $126 billion annually in the U.S.
If public funds will be used to treat this growing epidemic, researchers and agencies like the CDC owe it to the public to go after the root of the problem – whatever that might be. Simply expanding access to treatment isn’t going to cut it.