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Alternative Facts

Why Trump’s Mistake About Autism Rates Worries Parents

No matter where you stand politically, it’s understandable if you’re burnt out on talking about Flynn, Russia, Trump’s Labor Secretary announcement, and the press conference that ensued. But there’s still one piece of parenting news that should stay on your radar: The Commander in Chief’s miscalculation of autism rates. When the President and his new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed a panel of parents and educators at the White House this week his choice of words implied that autism rates have gone up due to reasons other than advances in diagnostic criteria, regardless of what research says.


As New York Magazine pointed out, at the 5:38 mark in the video above, President Trump engages in an exchange with Jane Quenneville, the principal of a special education center. In an apparent attempt to discuss an increased need for services for children with autism, the president deduced that ASD rates were up across the board. “It’s like really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase,” he said. “Maybe we can do something.”

But as Steve Silberman, the author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism And The Future of Neurodiversity, explained, “There’s no consensus as to whether or not there’s been any significant increase in the actual prevalence of autism, period.” The real debate, according to Silberman, is about if there’s been a small increase and what’s causing that, such as more parents having kids later in life. “But the consensus is that there has been no huge, startling, ‘horrible,’ as Trump said, increase in autism. And the CDC estimate has been flat for a couple of years, just as they expected it to be,” he clarified.

Again, that’s because a major source of the increase in the 1990s was a result of updates in diagnostic criteria and public awareness. While he may have pulled a DeVos and simply misspoke, misconceptions like this can cloud such awareness. And that’s not good for parents, children, or the month of April.

[H/T] New York Magazine

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