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Neuroskeptic


No one disputes that diagnosed rates of autism have increased enormously over the past 15 years or so, around the world. However, other people write it off as essentially a cultural phenomenon: we’re getting better at detecting the disorder and more willing to label kids as having it.

I subscribe to the latter view, but there’s very little hard evidence for it. To prove that diagnostic changes have occurred, rather than a true increase in autism, you’d have to know what would have happened to today’s kids, say, 20 years ago. Would they have been diagnosed? We have no way of knowing. At least not until someone invents a time machine.

However, a new study just out offers a valuable new perspective on the debate: Spatial clusters of autism births and diagnoses point to contextual drivers of increased prevalence.

According to authors Soumya Mazumdar and colleagues, there’s a zone of high autism prevalence in California, areas where kids aged 0-4 years old are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition. The epicentre is L.A.; there’s actually three overlapping hotspots centred on Santa Monica, Alhambra and North Hollywood.

In these clusters, autism rates are between 2 and 6 times higher than the rest of the state.

Continue reading “Finally. Hard Evidence Against the Autism Epidemic?”

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Last week, the proposed new DSM-5 revision of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Bible of Psychiatry” came under yet more criticism.

Aaron T. Beck, the father of currently-mega-popular cognitive behavioural therapy, started it off with an attack on the upcoming changes to one diagnosis, Generalized Anxiety Disorder; but many of the points also apply to the other DSM-5 proposals:

The lack of specific features, which is the primary issue for GAD, will not be addressed in DSM-5. The hallmark of the condition will remain pathological worry, although it also characterizes other disorders. Likewise, the proposed behavioral diagnostic criteria lack specificity for GAD, and it is not clear how these will be assessed. The proposed changes will lower the diagnostic threshold for GAD in DSM-5… many currently subthreshold cases will qualify for this diagnosis. The likely inclusion of many such “false-positives” will result in an artificial increase in the prevalence of GAD and will have further negative consequences.

Continue reading “DSM-5 Is Dead. Long Live DSM-5.”

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