When George and his late wife Claire Shadie’s son, Alex, now 24, was identified as having autism, it was widely accepted their he was a one-in-2,500 anomaly.
During the last 20 years, the incident rate for those disabilities classified as an autism spectrum disorder has grown so dramatically that now it’s more like one in 68 children 8 years old and younger have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s most recent findings.
In a report published in March titled, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children,” the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM), looked at 11 population centers throughout the United States for the year 2010 and found autism cases were about 30 times more frequent than when Alex Shadie was diagnosed.
A closer look at the time line shows those cases have increased steadily over the years.
• In 2002, the incidence was about one in every 150 children 8 and younger had it;
• And in 2004, it was one in every 110;
• In 2006, the numbers leaped again and it was figured one in every 88 children had autism.
Boys are about 4.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls; and white children are more likely to be diagnosed than black or Hispanic children, the ADDM report says.
The developmental disabilities that fall under autism spectrum disorder are many and complex.
Children who have been identified as having the same autism disability often exhibit vastly different symptoms.
Throughout their report, ADDM researchers said tracking autism incidence is difficult because the disorder has no physiological manifestation and the symptom classifications doctors use to diagnose it change frequently.
There are three disorders on the autism spectrum: pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified, autistic disorder and Asperger disorder. However, most cases fall somewhere in between the three.
What has caused the growing number of autism cases likely is twofold.
The CDC report says that it is likely to have become more prevalent because of awareness group efforts and healthcare providers have more tools for diagnosing autism.
There is some research to show vaccines that contain mercury lead to developmental disorders. However the the jury’s still out on whether autism is a direct side effect of mercury poisioning, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration.
George Shadie, of Drums, called the vaccination argument a red-herring argument and said it distracts parents from caring for their children.
Regardless, Shadie believes Alex’s autism was triggered by vaccinations he received around 4 years old.
Shadie believes vaccinations are critical for young children, but it’s important to know the risks and how to best avoid them, he said. When Alex was young, doctors knew little about autism and the dangers associated with trace amounts of mercury in vaccines, he said.
For example, working with a doctor to schedule vaccinations over time, rather than batching them, could help a developing child safely process the mercury.
“There are worse things that can happen to your child than autism,” Shadie said.