Please tell me you don’t seriously think autism is a fad!

Happy Autism Awareness (and Understanding and Acceptance) Day! 🙂

I read another “no offense to people who have kids with autism, but I think autism is a fad and is overdiagnosed” comment yesterday. And it ticked me off.

Definition of FAD

: An intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, esp. one that is short-lived; a craze.

 Definition of AUTISM

: a variable developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by stereotyped behavior patterns

You know, maybe there is something to that comparison. Because autism definitely involves “An intense enthusiasm for something” …though, not always so “short-lived” and definitely not usually “widely shared”- like Sam’s current obsession with the iPad, or flushing the toilet, or swinging on doors, or shredding stuff…
But when people say that they think autism is a fad, and the new ADD, etc. they aren’t talking about Sam flushing toilets – they are saying that we are jumping on some sort of bandwagon. That it’s the “in” thing to do.
And you know as I typed that I had a bit of a lightbulb over the head moment (maybe even a blue lightbulb perhaps) and that “ding ding ding” sound — so here’s my clever thought: ADD was believed to be the “fad” back when we were kids – and now we are all adults and having kids and “they” say autism is the fad now. Sooo… since we are thinkin it might be genetic, maybe the autism is the next generation of ADD. Like those with ADD have kids with Autism. My hubs has ADD. And my daughter does, too. Evidence shows that Autism may be several genes working together to create autism – some of those being the genes that cause ADD.
Soooo… in a way, they nay-sayers are right.  Autism is the new ADD.
But they say that the rise in Autism rates (now 1 in 88) is due to over diagnosis and increased diagnosis of those who are just “socially weird”  and years ago wouldn’t have been diagnosed. And I think that may be some of the reason. But no way can it be the only reason for the drastic rise.
This piece of an interview with the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Thomas Insel, and Dr. Peter Bearman, the professor of Sociology at the College of Arts and Sciences at Columbia University, helps explain what the research indicates as far as why the rates are on the rise.
Dr. Insel: From what you know now when you add all of those together how much of the increase can you explain?

Dr. Bearman: Well that’s a complicated question, but I think we can pretty uniquely associate about a quarter of the increase from the birth cohorts from 1992 to 2001 which is a lot, to diagnostic change on the border between diagnosis and mental retardation in autism. I think we can associate about 16 percent of the increase on the other border between autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders on the spectrum: Asperger’s, PPDNOS etc. And those are largely non over-lapping components of increase, so that’s about 40 percent. I think the spacial clustering itself adds another few percent. I would say I am confident that 40 percent of the increase I think I know what caused that. That leaves a lot of increase left, 50 percent is a lot to look for still.

Dr. Insel: Any ideas about what’s driving that other 50 percent?

Dr. Bearman: Well, some is genetic. I think that the increased parental age accounts were 11 percent of the increase over this period and that’s a lot and the mechanism by which increased parental ages expressing itself I think likely largely genetic. I think the tricky part is going to recognize that it would be harder now to find that 50 percent. It would look like it should be some toxicological environment that’s shared because of the spacial clustering. Because there’s a very strong process of amplification of the understanding of autism that leads to increased diagnosis as parents learn how to recognize symptoms a very, very, small event that would transform the environment five years ago, ten years ago, even you could imagine, 40 years or 50 years ago, when the moms of children with autism now were in utero as eggs- a very small event could cascade into a larger epidemic now.

Dr. Insel: So what do you tell parents who ask about this if you have friends who have autistic children and they say “What’s going on here? Why this epidemic?” What do you say in response?

Dr. Bearman: Well, I think parents are struggling. It’s just enormously difficult to have a child with autism. It makes it very hard. I think parents are naturally searching for explanations, and I think that the message now is the search for a quick and dirty explanation might not be advancing science.

“the quick and dirty” part makes me think of Juno. I love that movie :p


Mark : Technically, that would be kicking it Old Testament.
Juno : Exactly! Right? Do you know what I mean? Like in the good old days. When it was quick and dirty.

 It definitely bugs me when people think autism isn’t real, that we are just labeling kids who don’t need labels, or that I am doing it because it’s the cool thing to do. Sam’s cool and everything, and I love him just the way he is, but last night we were up with him until after midnight because he wouldn’t sleep and instead climbed, ran, and crashed into stuff every chance he got.  And every time he walks by the stove he touches the burner to see if it’s hot. Even after he burned his finger a few days ago and cried for hours and has a blister now. He still touches it. And he dumps the shampoo and dish soap if we forget to hide it, he emptied our spice cabinet onto the floor in 2 minutes flat, if I have a nice tall refreshing drink and take my eye off of it for a second he grabs it and flushes it, and my house perpetually looks like a bomb just went off in it. NONE of these things make me feel like I am in a cool club. Or that I am part of some current fad. It is actually quite the opposite. It is isolating. And overwhelming. And definitely not the sort of bandwagon I would voluntarily jump onto. Don’t get me wrong, now that I am on the wagon I love it and I think I am blessed to have a special son — but it’s hard. Very hard. And saying it is a fad is total crap. There, I think I said that very eloquently. :p

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Domestic Goddess
    Apr 02, 2012 @ 15:26:21

    FAD? WTF?


  2. ash
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 19:11:05

    Earlier today my husbands ex wife told us that austin age 9 may have autism. immediatly i thought no way this has to be for attention as she has done things like this several times thoughout our relationship. i know austin well, even though they are a state away we get frequent visits and get him for the majority of the summer. this last visit we took him to water parks and lazor tag places and everywhere we went he made new friends within minuts. we have never had a problem holding a conversation with him or getting him to do anything. he is a little high strung but his diet at home at moms is pure junk. my question is: Do people make stuff up like this for attention? i care for him like he is my own and i am firm believer in natural medication and healing the body with food. The ex is so hard to handle that it is court ordered contact only my email so i know this topic going forward is going to be aweful. please can somebody help shine some light on this situation


    • Super Mom Jess
      Oct 25, 2012 @ 16:18:40

      Hello, I think it is great that you are doing research on this and trying to better understand it. As far as whether or not someone would say their child has Autism just for the attention they get, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would want this kind of attention. Life is tough with autism. My son brings me endless amounts of joy, but he also is very difficult. There’s a book called “Easy to Love, Hard to Raise” – that sums it up.

      Autism is a spectrum disorder. Those with autism have symptoms that range from very mild to quite severe. Some people with autism are very isolated and stand out in the crowd as the oddball, while others who are high functioning may blend in and not seem different at all. Dr. Temple Grandin ( is a great example of someone with high functioning autism.

      So this may be the case with your step-son. He may have an autism diagnosis but he doesn’t seem like what most people think of when they think of autism. I recommend researching more about Asperger’s Syndrome, which is what they call high functioning autism. And also I suggest you read about the diagnostic criteria for diagnosing autism. Maybe after knowing how they diagnose autism you may notice some patterns of his behavior that do seem to fit into the autism diagnosis. Here is a link with more info on that:

      In my opinion, your husbands ex-wife is not making this up. She is probably having a tough time and could use support in anyway she can find it. It is a lot to deal with, no matter where the child falls on the spectrum there are plenty of challenges. But also lots of joy. 🙂

      Good luck. Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope I was helpful, feel free to ask me anything else 🙂
      there is also a ton of support on facebook if you just search for autism groups and pages, I bet you could probably find many people in your similar situation there.
      — Jess


  3. ash
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 19:19:30

    Also, I know autism is a real disorder and am not judging anybody. I simply just dont want my step son medicated for no reason and firmly believe this woman would make something up like this


    • Super Mom Jess
      Oct 25, 2012 @ 16:23:04

      I do not medicate my son and think many kids are being medicated when it isn’t necessary. Some people feel they get great results from them. If he is on meds I would research the med and if you are concerned maybe confront the mom with the facts about side effects vs how much it is helping, document any behavior changes, changes in eating habit, etc. I know you guys probably don’t have the best relationship since she’s the ex, but hopefully everyone can be an adult for the sake of the kiddo. Good luck! 🙂


  4. Vickie
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 09:07:03

    My son is now 14, he is on the spectrum along with several other diagnosis. I do medicate my son after several years of not. Finally this is the best year of his school career. Since my son is high functioning he is able to tell us how he feels, he is happy.


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