California Autism Intakes Down Slightly — Factors Discussed

From autism advocate Rick Rollens

According to information released Thursday by the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the number of newprofessionally diagnosed full syndrome cases of DSM IV autism for the quarter ending October 2004 dropped slightly compared to the October 2003 quarterly report.

749 new cases in October 2004 vs. 786 new cases in October 2003. It should be noted that the 749 new cases just added to California’s developmental services system between July 2004 and October 2004, represents an increase of 26 new cases compared to the previous April 2004 to July2004 report, and represents the second largest number of new cases ever reported for an October reporting period in the history of California’s 35 year old developmental services system.

Autism, which for many years accounted for 3% of the total number of new intakes has increased steadily over the past 24 years to today whereit accounts for 63% of all the new intakes, thus making full syndrome autism the largest and fastest growing disability in California’s developmental services system.

In July 2003 California adopted a new additional “substantial disability” criteria for eligibility into California’s developmental services system. Not only must persons with mental retardation, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and autism be professionally diagnosed (and in the case of autism receive a diagnosis of full syndrome DSM IV autism, not includingany other autism spectrum disorder such as PDD, NOS, or Asperger’s Syndrome), they now must demonstrate “significant functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity:”

1. Self-care
2. Receptive and expressive language
3. Learning
4. Mobility
5. Self-direction
6. Capacity for independent living
7. Economic self-sufficiency

Since the implementation of the new law in July 2003 there has beena decrease in the number of new intakes in all four categories ofdisabilities in California’s system. In some categories the decrease in the number ofnew intakes has been substantial.

When comparing the number of new intakes between July 2002 to July 2003 (prior to the new requirements) and July 2003 to July 2004 (the first full year since the implementation of the new requirements), CerebralPalsy intakes declined by 60%, Epilepsy intakes declined by 59%, Mental Retardation intakes declined by 29%, and Autism intakes declined by 1%. As sustained by the M.I.N.D. Institute (Byrd Study) California’s developmental services system has a remarkable 92% accuracy rate when diagnosing full syndrome DSM IV autism cases.

There is very little “fat”in the full syndrome autism caseload which has been growing at epidemic proportions for many years now. As expected, children with full syndrome autism generally fail in at least 3 and as many as 6 of the areas of “major life activities” asdefined above, therefore one would expect that autism would be the least impactedof all the categories by the new, additional requirements for eligibility,and the 1% reduction in autism, compared to 60%, 59% and 29% reductions respectively in Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy, and Mental Retardation, baresthat out.

The question of the reduction of the mercury containing preservative Thimerisol from pediatric vaccines and it’s effect on the number of new cases of autism will be answered here in California in the near future. We now know how sensitive California’s system is to reporting changes in the number of new intakes when a new factor has been introduced. We also know that California’s system does not include children under the age of three years old. Therefore, if one believes that the real decline in the mercury exposure began in 2001 and further declines in mercury containing vaccines over subsequent years, then the first impacted birth cohort (birth year 2001) should start showing up in our system in 2005.

We will watch and report the upcoming California quarterly reports with great interest.

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