Thomas Sowell Got it Half Right

In his latest article, Redefining autism a sales tactic, Dr. Thomas Sowell, Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, makes the point that autism is being redefined and many more children who would not be diagnosed as autistic in the past are being diagnosed today in greater numbers. His argument is that the redefining of autism to include a larger number of children is a way for politicians to bleed more money from the taxpayer. Dr. Sowell clearly understands the condition of genuine autism when he states:

Every dollar spent on children falsely labelled autistic is a dollar lost -- and urgently needed -- in dealing with the severe problems of genuinely autistic children.

Prior to the reclassification of autism in the DSM-V, I would have disagreed vociferously with his argument regarding the purported motive of politicians. Perhaps abuse occurred in the past due to economic incentives, with some children being diagnosed with autism, rather than intellectual impairment or speech and language; however, full fledged autism is so obvious that the occasional parent on the margin who conspires with a diagnostician would not account for the true explosion of children with autism that we see today. It is my view that we do have a real increase in children with autism.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of the DSM-V, we have a new diagnostic classification of autism that includes an army of children who are very mildly affected. This is going to:
  • give the neuro-diversity folks legitimacy for the bogus contention that they suffer from autism and can therefore speak for children with autism who are nonverbal,
  • have autism redefined as a “difference” rather than a disabling condition,
  • provide “hothousing” opportunities for parents whose children do not suffer from autism or Asperger’s syndrome,
  • bleed resources from children who truly need intensive behavioral treatment in order to be productive, functional adults who can live a life in dignity rather than being institutionalized
  • justify the rationing of treatment from the most severely affected children due to the fact that they will not advance as quickly as the others on the autism spectrum. This rationing will come from educational systems, health-care systems and/or insurance companies.

Although I’m not sure that I would agree with Sowell’s argument that the motive of politicians is to overtax the public by using autism as an excuse, it is correct that with the new diagnostic criteria, treatment for children with autism is in danger of being rationed. So if you have a child with genuine autism, get ready for a fight.