Autism now occurs in every 1 in 150 children, according to figures released in February of 2007 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. To illustrate what some term an “autism epidemic” (including three presidential candidates), people regularly compare the prevalence rate of children diagnosed with autism to that of children diagnosed with childhood cancer (1.5 per 10,000 children) or to the rate of children who have three diseases, “pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. (And you can go here to review the NIH’s estimated funding for various diseases, conditions, and research areas.)
The purpose of comparing the autism rate to that of childhood cancer and other diseases is to convey how pervasive autism has become (or seems to have become). An unfortunate side-effect is that some say that having autism is worse than having cancer. A post last year from Not Mercury addresses this comparison head-on:
For those who are new to autism, I strongly advise thinking long and hard about the similarities and many, many differences between having a child diagnosed with autism and learning that your child has cancer.
There have many been great advances in the treatment of pediatric cancers in recent years, and survival rates continue to increase as new drugs and treatment modalities are discovered, but survivors and their families will always live with specter of relapse and secondary health complications from the very treatments that saved their lives. CANCER is a scary word because most people associate the word with DEATH. Another scary word.
Autism, on the other hand, is never a fatal condition, though many autistic people may require extra help to recognize and avoid dangerous situations.
One argument offered for why “autism is worse than cancer” is that people with autism live a normal life-span, and so have to live with this awful disorder for their whole lives: These notions assume that living with autism is so awful that it’s tantamount to a fate worse than death.
It’s certainly possible to read accounts of autism like that, but that is not what you’ll read here. Life raising my son has not been easy and there’s always a lot of sad, painful, wrenching, tough moments—and like I said yesterday in reference to mother guilt, lots of happy, sappiness, fun and good times. Nothing beats watching Charlie turn somersaults in the pool or trying to wheedle me into buying four packs of sushi, or calling out “Dad’s black shoes” and running to put them by his bed.