• Sat, Jul 7 2007

1 in 58

An as yet published study shows that as many as one in 58 children in Britain have autism, according to the July 8th Guardian Unlimited. The study was conducted by seven researchers at Cambridge University, six from the Autism Research Centre, under Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. Some 12,000 children at a primary school in Cambridgeshire were studied between 2001 and 2004.

Professor Baron-Cohen, director of the centre and the country’s foremost authority on the condition, said he did not believe there was any link between the three-in-one vaccination and autism. Genetics, better recognition of the condition, environmental factors such as chemicals and children’s exposure to hormones in the womb, especially testosterone, were more likely to be the cause, he commented. ‘As for MMR, at this point one can conclude that evidence does not support the idea that the MMR causes autism.’

Two researchers, Dr. Fiona Scott and Dr Carol Stott, suggest that the MMR vaccine “could be a factor in small numbers of children.”

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  • http://whitterer-autism.blog.com mcewen

    Lummy! I don’t know which is more startling the figures or the implications.
    Maybe we should go back after all. 1 in every 58 we’d blend right in!

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Autismland indeed……..

  • http://hardwonwisdom.blogspot.com Rose

    Depending on how much you broaden the spectrum, I figure at least 40% of my family shows “traits”…

  • http://chaoticidealism.livejournal.com/ Callista

    Wow! 1 in 58? I thought it was 1 in 300.

    They must be using an awfully broad definition of the Spectrum to get that figure–maybe they’re including all the mild cases of Asperger’s that don’t get diagnosed because the people learn to compensate without being taught how.

  • M’sDad

    Rose makes an excellent point – all sorts of numbers (1 in 150, now 1 in 58, etc etc) are used in recent media reports about the prevalence of autism and the issue of an “epidemic”. Now, I’m not convinced either way by the arguments that have been made on either side of the “increase in cases / increase in diagnosis” argument (each side claims to have “good” statistics and counter-statistics) but what I’d love to know is what “counts” as autism according to these “1 in x” statistics… with apologies to the legitimate arguments that have been made by neurodiversity advocates about the problematic nature of a “low functioning / high functioning” distinction, I’m assuming that the numbers include kids who are perceived as being “a bit odd” and “not quite normal” (whatever the heck *that* means) as well as kids who (like our child M) are non-verbal and not potty-trained, super-sensory-defensive and in serious gastric pain, etc at the age of 7 and up. What *I* would really like to know is what percentage of these “rise in autism” numbers is represented by the children who have serious difficulties as opposed to those who can be seen as showing “traits” but who are basically able to communicate and function without 1:1 assistance. Kristina or anyone else reading this blog, do you know of any more useful breakdown? It would seem to me that if the vast majority of the “rise” can be attributed to children with some potential “traits” (which, as an academic, I could probably find in quite a number of my socially-inept-but-brilliant colleagues, certainly WAY more than 1 in 150), then the argument for better diagnosis (and/or more willingness to diagnose autism-spectrum as “flavor-of-the-month”) would gain the upper hand in my estimation.

  • rich

    I’m a bit concerned about a major newspaper reporting on an unpublished study. Who knows if it’s a valid study?

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    What “counts” as autism—yes, that’s the crucial question. I can identify family members with “traits” from my side and from Jim’s……… No one with Charlie’s profile of minimal verbal language, lots of difficulties with learning academics. Nonetheless: From reading about more kids with Asperger’s as they grow up into adolescence and older, there are plenty of difficulties and, in some cases (certainly not all or most) even behaviors (SIBs) such as my son does/has done.

    Since the researchers put out these numbers from their “not yet published” study am hoping that some indication of the criteria by which the children in the study were identified as having autism are provided. I found this reference to a 2002 paper on 5-11 year old children in Cambridgeshire; the researchers used school information to identify children on the spectrum, plus “a random subset of parents of one quarter of the children identified were sent the Autism Screening Questionnaire [ASQ]“—-


  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    The Guardian article moves rather quickly from this study to mention of the MMR and Wakefield.

    Baron-Cohen and his team studied the incidence of autism and autistic spectrum disorders among some 12,000 children at primary school in Cambridgeshire between 2001 and 2004. He was so concerned by the one in 58 figure that last year he proposed informing public health officials in the county.

    Controversy over the MMR jab erupted in 1998 after Dr Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, said he no longer believed it was safe and might cause autism and inflammatory bowel disease in children. Many parents panicked and MMR take-up fell dramatically. More families opted to have their child immunised privately through three separate injections to avoid the possibility of their immune system being overloaded by the MMR jab, thus leaving them at greater risk of infections.

  • http://www.pointsofpraxis.motime.com Rochelle

    This reminds me of the television commercial for AutismSpeaks with the white, blond-hair, blue-eyed, boy being buckled up into the backseat of a minivan by his mother. I’m paraphrasing here: “Chances of a child being fatally hurt in a car accident? One in 1000. Chances of a child being diagnosed with autism? 1 in 161.” Man, I hate that commercial for so many reasons.

    Now, I can just see the next television commercial with these “epidemic” and “frightening” figures being broadcast on television…

  • http://www.kevinleitch.co.uk Kev

    Like Rich, I would be treating this figure with scepticism for now. The paper is unpublished and Dr BC, god love him, has had ‘issues’ with accurate epidemiology in the past.

  • http://laurentius-rex.blogspot.com laurentius-rex

    Its more journalistic irresponsibility, just when you think Wakefield is dead some idiot revives him.

    As for SBC’s colleagues, they are clearly not fit to publish anything if they harbour such private beliefs, how can that not bias there scientific integrity as I have been arguing all along.

    Lets end the argument here, everybody is autistic, and its the water to blame, we all drink it, the Russkies have been stealing our essence for too long now.

    The UK has been host to these sort of studies before, not very good ones and I am ashamed to say that the NAS has been a party to them before.

    It’s a bit of a bugger to have to rely on a newspaper renowned for more spelling mistakes than yours truly to get a glimpse of a scientific paper which might actually be saying no such thing for all we know having the best sound bytes cherry picked out of it.

  • Laura

    Well, who knows, perhaps the English really do have higher rates of ASD:

    “The art of change ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist … the proper use of the bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations.” (From Dorothy Sayers’ The Nine Tailors)

  • http://autisminnb.blogspot.com/ Harold L Dohery

    Contrary to laurentius-rex’s comment there is nothing at all irresponsible in the Guardian/Oberserver’s reporting on this story. The article includes quotes from Baron-Cohen and others indicating that there is nothing to the Autism-Vaccine link. It also reports on Wakefield’s disciplinary proceedings and the damage done by panic over vaccine injections.

  • RAJ

    Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder caused by a disruption in early brain development. That is about the only fact that there is universal agreement on. Theorists like Baron-Cohen are responsible for the autism epidemic because they have redefined the nature of autism from what it is, a disruption in early brain development to what it is not, a personality disorder.

  • http://laurentius-rex.blogspot.com laurentius-rex

    Nay nay me old pal me old beauty it is the order in which the article is written that leads the reader to the conclusions, it is disengenous writing which speaks the lie first and then hopes you don’t read on to the somewhat equivocal negation.

    Journo’s know what they are doing and they do mislead. The tone of the articles is fairly evident.

    Anyway back to the bells they are more fun,

    the background music to this link is William Byrds Bells of Rhymney.


    Byrd was a contemporary of Tallis and a fine musician from an era when many changes were rung. Byrds pal Tallis was like the vicar of Bray in that he survived four monarchs and stormy religious times

    “Enterred here doth ly a worthy wyght,
    Who for long time in musick bore the bell:
    His name to shew was Thomas Tallis hyght;
    In honest vertuous lyff he did excell.

    He served long tyme in chappel with grete prayse,
    Fower sovereygnes reignes, (a thing not often seene);
    I mean King Henry and Prince Edward’s dayes,
    Queene Marie, and Elizabeth our quene.

    He maryed was, though children he had none,
    And lyv’d in love full three and thirty yeres,
    With loyal spowse, whose name yclept was Jone,
    Who, here entombed, him company now bears.

    Ad he dyd lyve, so also dyd he dy,
    In myld and quyet sort, O happy man!
    To God ful oft for mercy did he cry;
    Wherefore he lyves, let Deth do what he can”

    Of course you did not want to know that but I am posting it anyway, it’s an aspie fault of mine, consider it an education

  • http://laurentius-rex.blogspot.com laurentius-rex

    Oh yes there is the 40 part motet, spem in Alium with all its mathematical complexity of harmonies and dissonances.

    Baron Cohen lives in a town full of scholars, and mathematicians, but is not one himself, what a pity.

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    A man just ran by me on the path and I saw

    “1 in 166″

    on the back of his shirt (from the OAR)

    and when I asked he had an autistic child, he said he did not and slowed his pace and we jogged and talked; he noted that he’d heard the figure was lower.

    “1 in 150″

    “1 in 94 here in New Jersey”

    I said, and after a few exchanges about the school system (always glad to note Charlie’s doing well), he ran on (this is a town of well-exercised executives, I am not one of them).

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  • http://autismnaturalvariation.blogspot.com Joseph

    I could be 1 in 58 is the prevalence in that one school. I do get the sense some schools have more autism than others, and it’s not hard to imagine some of the reasons.

    Then again, this sort of thing is not surprising as I had anticipated back in February:


  • http://laurentius-rex.blogspot.com laurentius-rex

    Quite and I made an eloquent comment on Josephs blog back then.

    If one were to look for the last house in London where is it?

    In an urbanisation which consists of ribbon development on the fringes, how does one decide what is town and what is country, and what is the circumference of the urban area?

    Because autism does not exist as a discrete entity and so far is only measured by observable behaviour that shifts in its description from DSM to DSM what are we measuring anyway?

    The surface of the sea?

    Put it this way, what does SBC’s quiz measure other than a cultural construct of fin du siecle 20th century geekiness.

    Theatre or Museum, Circus Maximus or Senate I dunno.

    How much of me is autistic and how much dyslexic, who can say, who cares?

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    I mean this in good faith (e.g., not unkindly): Do you care?

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  • http://mikestanton.wordpress.com mike stanton

    When the study is published we shall be able to comment on it. Meanwhile, the study is being used as a smokescreen for Wakefield ahead of his disciplinary hearing next week. Shame on the Observer for allowing itself to be drawn into this charade

  • http://a-shade-of-grey.blogspot.com Ian Parker

    Just to be clear, the number was for children in primary school, not children in one school (please pardon the pedantic input).

    Given the location (Cambridge), and the correlations between ASD and certain parental occupations and skill sets (e.g. mathematics and engineering), and ASD and parental IQ scores, it may not be unreasonable to expect the children of ‘the gown’ to be pulling up the figures for ‘the town’.

    Having said that, issues of definition, inclusion, etc. are still open until the study is released.

  • http://www.retiredwaif.com Retired Waif

    Baron-Cohen is a pretty problematic figure when it comes to figuring out “what counts as autism.” Unfortunately, while his reasoned stance on the vaccine hysteria is extremely helpful, his wanderings into the high-testonsterone theories have led to some serious problems with regards to recognizing autism in girls and women. Many of the diagnostic criteria are currently skewed towards male behaviors, and autism is starting to be cast as another “boy disease” like ADD–with Asperger’s Syndrome even sometimes being described as a hyper-version of typically male behavior. While this viewpoint may not be as problematic as the quackery of DAN! and the mercury militia, it’s still a really unfortunate misdirection of autism research. Maybe not as dangerous, but a distraction a lot of people are becoming waaaaaay too attached to. I talk to a lot of parents of recently-diagnosed girls, and the road they’ve had to travel to get their concerns addressed is pretty harrowing.

    The gender issue, in terms of whose autism “counts,” is at least as huge as arbitrary criteria of high and low “functioning.”

  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    I’ve heard similar stories regarding girls—-when Newsweek did its cover story on Baron-Cohen’s male/female brain theory, a call went out to some NJ email lists to find twins: boy with autism, girl without. Several parents with daughters were aghast at this skewing of the picture.

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  • http://laurentius-rex.blogspot.com laurentius-rex

    I absolutely agree about SBC and the danger of his idea that autism is a male thing skewing the reserch even skewing the diagnostics in favour of there being more male subjects available for reserch.

    Once again there is the danger of science becoming vanity as one needs ones thery to be correct because the institution paying one demands it and one needs to keep ones status in the social order.

    When one goes out to find examples that confirm ones hypothesis rather than looking to see if there are any that do not, then one is certainly not practicing good science.

  • http://autisminnb.blogspot.com/ Harold L Doherty

    Maybe we should have all scientific investigation and discussion of autism submitted to a Neurodiversity Political Correctness panel for review and permission before being permitted to enter the public domain?

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  • http://www.autismvox.com Kristina Chew, PhD

    Someday I will have to chart the prevalence rate in my town which is quite skewed as a result of there being a strong program in the public schools. Within one minute of our house are 5 autistic children (2 for sure not born in the town).

  • http://laurentius-rex.blogspot.com laurentius-rex

    Thats a good point, as to why a prevalence study can be skewed.

    When I designed an instrument to discover the levels of undeclared and unrecognised disabiltiy in Coventry, I used a randomisation method to chose which streets to carry out the survey in, and ultimately the survey was repeated in another ward on the other side of town with different demographics.

    One needs the full picture to interpret studies, and it seems this one has been prematurely leaked, as the peer review process will surely in time reveal its weaknesses or biases.

    It is a study after all, not a definitive global population survey using full diagnostic methods.

    The Observer is as guilty as any for distorting that fact, let us hope that the Observer/Guardian redeems itself soon.

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  • Rachel

    There needs to be a study comparing vaccinated children with COMPLETELY unvaccinated children. There is no reason other than wild speculation to suppose that the MMR is the only one to blame, and every theoretical reason to hypothesis that ALL vaccines have the risk – hence some children develop autism before the MMR jab, and even later with other jabs.

    Most vaccines them contain organic forms of mercury, which autistic children have been proven to store in their bodies in enormous quantities compared to non-autistic children, and they all are known to cause the same gastrointestinal abnormalities that autistic children have been shown to share.

    Someone, somewhere, (namely the the vaccine companies and their apologists) is deliberately failing to join the dots, or there would be sensible research into this by now.