On Friday the 3rd February, I saw an article in the Verve Section of The Star, Is the changing Role of Women behind the rise in Autism over the last 30 years? I was very disappointed with it.
I was so unhappy that I typed a letter to Zenaide Jones, the Editor of the Verve Section. The next day I got a reply from her, thanking me for emailing and saying that she was going to forward my letter to the Letters Editor of The Star. Today, my letter was published in The Star. I reproduce it below.
“Dear Zenaide Jones,
On Friday the 3rd February, The Star hosted an article in its Verve Section, “Is the changing role of women behind the rise in Autism in the past 30 years?” As an individual diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome I wish to express my severe disappointment with it. Author Michael Hanlon made a number of highly questionable assertions in the article. About the only correct items are that the vaccine causation hypothesis for autism has been utterly discredited, that the diagnosis of Autism has broadened and that researchers now believe that genetics plays a primary role in Autism causation.
The first questionable assertion is in the article’s title, which refers to “the rise in Autism”. Hanlon claims that “over-diagnosis [can’t] explain all the rise.” Leaving aside the fact that over-diagnosis is a very loaded term, the broadened criteria can explain a lot. In addition, many children who are now diagnosed with autism would previously have been diagnosed as retarded.
Thirdly, there is greatly increased awareness of Autism compared to just 25 years ago. Films like “Rain Man” and “Adam”, and characters like Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory” have raised the public’s general awareness of the condition. Finally, many Autistics have only been diagnosed in their 40’s or 50’s, which suggests that Autism was very under-diagnosed in the past.
Hanlon mentions the increases in autism diagnoses in Silicon Valley but overlooks an obvious confounding factor. Highly intelligent, well-educated people are more likely to both know about the signs of Autism and to recognise them when they appear. To work in Silicon Valley demands both intelligence and education.
Hanlon claims that in the past smart women were not valued as partners and claims that the stereotypical “dumb blonde” cliche had an element of truth.
Not only is this a questionable argument, he forgot the other cliche of “smart enough to play dumb”. Also, even today a lot of smart women don’t marry or have children (think of Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock and Sheryl Crow).
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen’s hypothesis of “Assortative Mating” and Hanlon’s entire article are premised on the assumption that the proportion of Autistics in the general population has been increasing. Autism was only named in 1944 by Leo Kanner in the US and Hans Asperger in Austria. It strikes me as extremely unlikely that a massive increase in Autism rates could have occurred in less than three generations. The jobs of clerk, scribe, accountant and engineer (all needing good systemising skills) go back for millenia. Isaac Newton, who gave us the Laws of Gravity, Inertia, Conservation of Motion and Action-Reaction, was almost certainly autistic. My belief is that Autistics have always been present in humanity, but that they only have been recognised as such since 1944.
Thank You Zenaide Jones, and the rest of the staff of The Star, for publishing my letter.