Trump's Latest Comments on Autism Rates Are Extremely Concerning

Jane Richards
February 16, 2017

This is a common talking point of the anti-vaccine movement.

Today, during a meeting with educators at the White House with new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Trump had this to say in a conversation with a teacher who works in special ed.

During the introduction portion of the meeting, Trump asked a principal for students with disabilities in Virginia if she's noticed an increase in autism rates. Trump asked. "When you look at the tremendous increase, it's really such an incredible - it's really a disgusting thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase. You have any idea?" "And you're seeing it in the school".

Trump continued: "So what's going on with autism?" "We don't even know how many autistic adults are out there, trying to get by with no support because a national prevalence survey of autism has never been done in the United States", he said.

Science writer Steve Silberman told New York Magazine the President was wrong to emphasize how "tremendous" and "horrible" the rise was.

Mr. Silberman, whose book about autism Neurotribes won the prestigious Samuel Johnson prize for best nonfiction writing, said studies had shown older parents were more likely to have children with autism.

"Some people claim that there are some environmental factors - notably, not vaccines - that may be contributing to a small increase". That increase is explained in large part by more awareness of the developmental disorder and changes in practice that broadened the definition for an autism diagnosis.

Other autism experts agree with Silberman.

Research has shown an increase in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and an almost three-fold increase in autism diagnoses in special education programs in the U.S. This may be why Quenneville reported the increase that she did.

Parents are now being told to screen their children for autism in order to potentially diagnose the disorder and start treatment earlier. As recently as the 60s and 70s, some researchers falsely thought the disease was caused by "refrigerator mothers" who didn't love their children enough. In fact, autism wasn't even something schools formally recognized until 1992, when the disorder was added as a special education designation. Business Insider reported that experts found no evidence that autism incidence is on the rise, while Mashable noted that the President "is right that autism rates have increased over the long term", but that doctors argue such figures are "misleading".

A similar assertion in a 2015 presidential primary debate brought a rebuke from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which said it is "dangerous to public health" to suggest that vaccines are linked to autism. Trump's made similarly bogus claims about everything from unemployment to trade to illegal border crossings.

Trump in the past has promoted debunked theories linking vaccines to autism, and shortly before his inauguration was considering a commission on the matter.

The recent opposition to vaccines has caused concern among scientists and medical professionals since there's evidence that the movement has led to a measurable spike in measles outbreaks in the US.

The estimated number of lives saved by childhood vaccinations measures in the hundreds of thousands.

Other reports by VgToday

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