California cries "273% Increase in autism and we don’t know why"
Thursday, April 15, 1999, Los Angeles Times
A new state report released today raises troubling questions about why California’s developmental services system is experiencing a large unexpected increase in the numbers of children with autism, announced by State Senate President pro tem John Burton and Senator Wesley Chesbro, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health.
In the past 10 years, California has had a 273% increase in the number of children with autism who enter the developmental services system 1,685 new cases last year alone," Burton said. "What is generally considered a rare condition is increasing faster here than other developmental disabilities. "We need to find out why." The number of children with autism greatly exceeds the numbers you’d expect from traditional incident rates," Chesbro said. "The findings and conclusions of this report show we need to take action now to figure out where this increase is coming from, what the causes of autism are and what we as a state can do.
The Department of Developmental Services report, "Changes in the Population of Persons with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders in California’s Developmental Services System: 1987--1998" was released to the legislature this morning. While it confirms the increased incidence, the report does not examine factors leading to the increase. The report was required as a result of legislation developed after parents, human services professionals and educators expressed concern that they were seeing a dramatic increase in children with autism.
In addition to special legislative hearings in the issue, Burton and Chesbro called for funding an independent epidemiological study (note the use of the "E" word) to help identify the causes of autism and the factors leading to California’s increase in autism cases. The senators suggested that the U.C. Davis Medical Investigation of Neurological Disorders Institute, (M.I.N.D.) would be the appropriate organization to do the research. "Autism exacts a tremendous cost on children, on families and the developmental disabilities system," Burton said. "The system is getting seven new kids with autism seven days a week. Is this because families coming to California for services? A change in diagnostic practices? Something environmental? We need to get to the bottom of this and we need to do it right," Chesbro added.
For copies of the report, contact Paul Verke at the California Department of Developmental Services 916-654-1820. The report is also on the Department’s website http://www.dds.ca.gov/ or will be there by the end of the day. The contact for the M.I.N.D. Institute is Carole Gan 916-734-9047.
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