Is Autism an Epidemic?

image_1_4381Until the 1940s, there was no autism in the sense that it was an unrecognized condition. In 1988, when Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man brought a version of autism to life on film, many of us first heard about it—as an odd, almost-fascinating disorder which was also, apparently, rare.

Fast-forward to today. Autism is front-page news. Celebrities talk about it, Congress ponies up millions for research, and the numbers are startling: One in every 150 American kids has some form of autism, says the Centers for Disease Control. The last 15 years in particular have seen diagnoses rates soar. “It is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S.“ says Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, director of medical research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore.

No one really knows why the numbers are so high. But there are many theories. The most commonly accepted one centers on how we define and recognize autism.

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