An Age of Autism reader sent me an article reporting on autism trends over time in Israel. The article is entitled “Time Trends in Reported Autistic Spectrum Disorders in Israel, 1972-2004” and was published in the Israeli Medical Association Journal in January of 2009 (HERE.)
The reader was concerned that little attention was being paid to the findings of the article. Although one might point to a more thorough, recent U.C. Davis study showing the rise in autism is not due to better screening and diagnosis, and suggesting an environmental cause, the findings from the Israeli study are nonetheless chilling.
From the abstract, “The incidence data showed an increase in the number of cases from zero in 1982-1984 and 2 in 1985 (1.2 million per capita under 18 years) in 1985 to a high of 428 cases in 2004 190 per million).” That makes the current rate of autism in Israel to be about 1 in 2,400 kids. But the numbers on a yearly basis tell an even more interesting story than an inexorable rise in autism rates.
The graphic for figure 1 in the document shows a slow increase from 1985 (0 per year) to 1996 (approximately 65), then a sharp increase, peaking in 1999 (about 350), a plunge from that time to a low in 2002 (about 200), then a sharp increase to 2004 (about 450). The authors note that “The fivefold increase in the annual number of patients eligible for disability benefits (author's note - referring to the time-frame between 1996 and 1999) might be attributable to several factors,” and then goes on to identify the usual suspects, namely better diagnosing and reporting.
What’s curious, though, is how this population of medical professionals who were supposedly good at identifying and diagnosing autism in 1999, then had a drop of more than 40% by 2002. Did they lose their newly-acquired skills in a sophomore slump? If I’m not mistaken, those were also the years of the vaccine-autism "panic" which began shortly after the publication of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s article in the Lancet, linking the MMR shot and autism. Was there a drop in vaccination rates in Israel after the Wakefield publication? Did vaccination rates then subsequently go up in later years?
Think about it. Autism rates in Israel dropped more than 40% during that time. Shouldn’t there be some investigation of what caused this dramatic change? Isn’t this something the CDC should be looking into? Can somebody call Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN?
Because if we could discover what caused such an amazing decrease in autism we'd all have a new miracle from the Holy Land.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor of Age of Autism