Autism Biomedical Information Network

Alert! Factual error in article on autism, CHILD magazine, March 2000

The March 2000 issue of CHILD magazine has a major error on the risk of recurrence of autism in a family which already has one child with autism. The article, "Why is Autism on the Rise?" by Monika Guttman, states "...parents who have one autistic child have a 50% chance of autism in subsequent children." (p. 34). Of course, the author got it all wrong. The risk of recurrence is usually stated as between 5 and 8%, or a relative risk of about 50 to 75 fold greater than that in the general population.

The article is also misleading in representing that there has been a "staggering increase since 1985,...". More recent prevalence data are approximately double that from the 1970s and 1980s. However, this also coincides with the period of transition to an updated diagnostic system (from DSM-IIIR to DSM-IV), earlier and more frequent recognition, and awareness of the broader spectrum of autism phenotypes.

The author cites data from the California Department of Developmental Services and the Illinois State Board of Education regarding increased services for children with autism. However, these should not be construed as epidemiological studies of autism prevalence. More rigorous studies of prevalence are needed to support the widely-held impression of a "staggering increase".

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Commentary by Ronald J. Kallen, M.D. This page uploaded on 02/05/2000