As I (and many people smarter than me) frequently say – there is no autism epidemic. Rates are increasing largely, perhaps solely, due to changing how we diagnose autism.
Now Jessica Wright, for Spectrum (and republished by The Atlantic), has written an enormously important piece on the “missing generation” of autistic individuals.
Last year, Scott Hartman moved into his own apartment for the first time. He quickly learned to balance his budget, squirreling away money to buy a Blu-ray player or Xbox games. He started taking long walks to his favorite fast food joints: Hardee’s, Papa John’s, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell. To get to the science museum or the library, his other favorite destinations, he is learning the intricacies of public transportation.
Scott can enjoy these simple pleasures because two years ago he was finally diagnosed with autism. He was 55.
For decades, Scott had struggled to find his place in the world. Misdiagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and manic depression (now called bipolar disorder), he spent much of his life in and out of group homes and psychiatric institutions, often heavily medicated: At one point, he was taking 18 pills a day.
Wright talks to a number of researchers who have been working to locate people like Hartman. Many were diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder and given medication designed to treat such conditions. Because they had neither, the medicine didn’t help.
The article is tragic. So many lives spent in isolation, medicated or otherwise, due to our lack of understanding about autism, our lack of tolerance for neurodiversity. It’s also a vital piece of evidence to push back at the epidemic language.
There is no autism epidemic. We’re just getting better at understanding it.