The following letter first appeared in The Stylus, the student newspaper at The College at Brockport, on Wednesday, October 26, 2011. It can be found online here:
I’d like to clarify a few issues regarding the autism spectrum which was reported on in the Oct.5, 2011 issue of The Stylus. According to the “By the numbers” section of The Stylus, “Six out of every 1,000 children are on the autism spectrum.” Standing alone, this statistic is quite misleading.
First off, in case you were wondering, six out of 1,000 is roughly equivalent to one out of every 166 people. In any event, it neglects to inform (or hopefully remind) readers that autism is a spectrum. As Dr. Grandin said, “It’s a very big spectrum.” High-functioning individuals commonly live and work without any formal diagnosis or sometimes are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and some low-functioning individuals may even be misdiagnosed.
Providing this statistic outside of a context that notes how autism is not absolute, but rather is relative to each person is committing a great misdeed toward our understanding of diverse individuals. To be sure, statistics are important. However, they need to be used appropriately and they need to reflect accurate information. More recent studies have found the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is increasing and affect somewhere around one in every 110 children (and perhaps as many as one in every 70 males).
Again, it needs to be stressed that autism is a spectrum. Individuals may express a variety of repetitive behaviors, uncomfortable sensory reactions or difficulty in navigating social situations. Notably, individuals with autism are not limited by “inabilities” or “abnormalities” as your article so distastefully asserts. In a world of increasing interdependence and especially on a campus that recently welcomed a world-renowned expert on autism, we owe it to ourselves to discuss such important issues more genuinely.
Nicholas M. Lind