The Truth About The ‘Autism Epidemic’

The Truth About The ‘Autism Epidemic’

Have you ever come across the term 'autism epidemic' in discussions? It's quite common to hear people talk about a supposed sudden surge in autism cases. Many believe this 'epidemic' is not only real but also worsening daily. While it's true that the number of autism cases has indeed increased in recent years, the reasons behind this rise are much more intricate and varied than commonly believed. Yes, the number of autism diagnoses has indeed risen in recent years, but there are various complex reasons behind it. In this blog, let's dive into some of the key reasons.

A Shift In Diagnostic Approach

In the past, many children were often misdiagnosed with an intellectual disability rather than autism due to limited awareness and understanding of the condition. Diagnostic criteria for autism were not as comprehensive or accurate as they are today, leading to confusion and misinterpretation of symptoms. Autistic individuals were often lumped together with those with intellectual disabilities, resulting in a higher rate of misdiagnoses. However, with advancements in our understanding of autism, we now have clearer definitions and labels for the condition, as well as for related co-occurring conditions.

Advancements In Autism Awareness And Screening Methods

Increased awareness among the public regarding autism and its symptoms has become evident in recent years. Parents, in particular, are now more inclined to seek support when they notice behaviours suggestive of autism in their children. This growing awareness has led to more parents actively pursuing a diagnosis for their children, aided by the improved accessibility of resources. Moreover, significant progress in research has resulted in the development of more sophisticated screening tools and techniques. These advancements play a crucial role in facilitating early and precise detection of autism spectrum disorder.

Improved Diagnostic Criteria

Autism was first introduced in the DSM III in 1980, classified under 'Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs).' However, the diagnostic criteria at the time were quite rigid, primarily focusing on infantile autism. With the introduction of the DSM IV, autism was recognised as a spectrum disorder, encompassing various conditions with distinct features. Conditions such as Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and Rett syndrome were delineated.

As research progressed, it became evident that a single gene does not cause autism but involves hundreds of genes. Consequently, pursuing specific treatments or genetic causes for the individual conditions proved challenging. In response to this understanding, the DSM-5 introduced the term 'autism spectrum disorder,' reflecting the diverse range of presentations and severity levels within autism. Furthermore, the updated DSM allows for the co-occurrence of autism and ADHD, flexibility not present in previous versions. This evolution in diagnostic criteria signifies a shift towards a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of autism spectrum disorders.

Looking At Autism As A ‘spectrum’

With autism now recognised as a spectrum, even individuals with milder traits are being diagnosed. Previously, only children meeting strict criteria received an autism diagnosis. Viewing autism as a spectrum means that individuals with varying levels of intelligence can receive a diagnosis based on their social interaction challenges. This shift has resulted in more people being formally diagnosed, encouraging them to seek the required support.


In conclusion, the perceived "autism epidemic" can be attributed to factors such as heightened societal awareness, enhanced diagnostic standards, the inclusion of milder autism forms in diagnoses, and ongoing research advancements. The increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorder cases indicates improvements in identifying the condition and encouraging parents to seek early interventions for their children. This suggests progress rather than a negative trend.

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Dr. Arati Soman

Dr. Arati Soman is a seasoned Ayurvedic physician and Head Formulator at Nisarga Herbs. Driven by a deep passion for Ayurveda and vast expertise, she has been instrumental in formulating medicines, diagnostic procedures, and innovative Ayurvedic treatments that are trusted globally.