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Autism: An Epidemic or A Matter of Definition?. Presented in partnership with the Empowerment Congress and the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas – with generous support from The California Endowment.

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Autism: An Epidemic or

A Matter of Definition?

Presented in partnership with the Empowerment Congress and the Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas – with generous support from The California Endowment.


In 1943, Dr. Leon Kanner, a child psychiatrist, was the first scientist to describe autism, as a condition characterized by “inborn disturbance of affective contact,” “resistance to change,” and “insistence on sameness.”


In the 60’s, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim blamed bad parenting and “refrigerator mothers” (cold and unaffectionate) as the cause of autism. This view has been totally rejected as lacking any scientific basis.


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  


Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.


Asperger’s disorder is named after Hans Asperger it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.who, as a medical student at the University of Vienna during WWII, wrote his medical school thesis on boys who had difficulty forming groups, motor problems, unusual circumscribed interests, but otherwise good language and cognitive abilities.


Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.Disorders is based on descriptions and observations of behavior as there is not yet a valid bio-marker or biological test.


“There is it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.almost nothing concerning autism about which everyone agrees except for the fact that it is a seriously debilitating disorder pervasively affecting almost all aspects of behavior.”

Dr. Laura Schreibman, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, UCSD


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affect 1 in 88 children in the U.S. This is almost double the rate reported in 2002.


Autism Spectrum Disorders Preventions, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) affect 1 in 88 children in the U.S. This is almost double the rate reported in 2002.are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252.)


In identical twins, if one child has ASD, the other will be affected about 60-90% of the time.

In non-identical twins, if one child has ASD, the other is affected about 0-24% of the time.



An expert panel of the American autism has become fashionable – a popular fad diagnosis”Psychiatric Association is currently reassessing the definition for autism, as part of the panel's work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5.)

This first major revision of the manual in 17 years is expected to narrow the criteria for autism.


" autism has become fashionable – a popular fad diagnosis”We have to make sure not everybody who is a little odd gets a diagnosis of autism or Asperger disorder. It involves a use of treatment resources. It becomes a cost issue.”

Dr. David J. Kupfer, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh


" autism has become fashionable – a popular fad diagnosis”Our fear is that we are going to take a big step backward. If clinicians say, ‘These kids don't fit the criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis,' they are not going to get the support and services they need, and they're going to experience failure.”

Lori Shery, President of the Asperger Syndrome Education Network


Lifetime costs to care for an individual with ASD are estimated at $3 to $5 million beyond the ordinary lifetime costs of raising a child.  


Autism is costing society $137 billion annually, according to new estimates that suggest a three-fold increase in less than a decade.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became law in 1975 and was amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004 mandating schools in the United States to provide a free and appropriate education for all children with disabilities.


In the 1960s, Dr. became law in 1975 and was amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004 mandating schools in the United States to provide a free and appropriate education for all children with IvarLovaas, UCLA, established behavior modification as the first effective treatment for autism.


An LA Times became law in 1975 and was amended by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004 mandating schools in the United States to provide a free and appropriate education for all children with analysis found that the level of autism services in California varies by race and ethnicity, as indicated by the average spending per autistic child.

All children $9,751

White $11,723

Asian $11,063

Latino $7,634

Black $6,593


“We’re exploring the social differences people with autism have. We’re looking at everything from eye-tracking, to reasoning, to complex theory-of-mind stuff, which is about understanding what others feel or think.”

Dr. Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Caltech


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