Autism: It is not a disaster

Believe it or not, people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. This doesn’t make much sense to people because we want to believe that someone who kidnaps, rapes, and murders a person has to be deranged. A “normal” mind can’t possibly do something so horrible, right?

Even worse, a lot of people are quick to point out that a criminal — especially a young criminal — was kind of “quirky” or maybe had “autism or something” instead of waiting for the facts to come through on a case. I believe that it’s our own attempt to justify what happened and to tell ourselves that we would never do something like that. Because, deep down, we’re afraid to be monsters ourselves.

Don’t deny it. It’s true.

Furthermore, autism and other neurological disorders are not mental health problems. You wouldn’t walk up to someone with cerebral palsy and say that they’re “crazy,” would you? Likewise, you wouldn’t say that Muhammad Ali, who has Parkinson’s, is more likely to commit violence than someone who is neurotypical. Would you? Nevertheless, for a very long time, children with cerebral palsy or autism have been treated as being “crazy” or “quirky,” and mass shooters as possibly being autistic (with the implication that said autism was the cause for their violence).

And so we come to yesterday’s news that “1 in 50 children have autism.” From Dr. Willingham’s post:

“According to the CDC, hidden within these numbers is the finding that most of the increase from 2007 to now occurred in school-aged children. In other words, given that it’s possible to diagnose autism as early as age 18 months and usually by age 5, many of these new autism diagnoses were in children who received them relatively later. Children who were, therefore, walking around for quite a few years with autism that went unrecognized … and uncounted. That fits with the idea that a lot of the increase in autism we’ve seen in the last decade has much to do with greater awareness and identification.”

The anti-vaccine blogs are already chomping at the bits at what this new prevalence number means, totally misunderstanding the meaning of the data. (I’m not surprised, are you?) Not only that, but they have their dire predictions:

“Any expressions of concern from anybody with the power to do something about this disaster? No . And the press, as usual is soft pedaling the findings. Fifteen years ago the autism rate was 1 in 10,000, 12 year ago it was I in 2,500, 10 years ago it was 1 in 1000, and so on. When President Obama was elected in 2008 the official rate was 1 in 150, then it went to 1 in 88 and now it is 1 in 50. Where is it going to stop?”

It will never stop. We will get to 100% saturation. Every child will be autistic.
I’m joking, of course. The prevalence rate will remain the same as it has always been. Our estimate of it will even itself out and approach the prevalence rate and remain there. This is because our ability to do surveillance for autism is improving. The identification of cases by healthcare providers is improving. People with autism are coming forward and demanding to be counted. Our elected leaders are devoting more resources to ways to assist people with autism to lead long and productive lives. These are all good things.
It is not a disaster.
What is a disaster is that people who call themselves “advocates” for children and adults with autism continue to say and do things that actually harm people with autism and other neurological disorders. They call it a “disaster” to have a child with autism, or they say that they “lost” their child to autism. They then write that their children are monsters or have monsters inside them. And we’re supposed to just stand back and be understanding because we don’t have children or children who are autistic? We’re supposed to agree that it’s a “disaster” when all rationality says that it’s not and that children with autism can and will grow up to be productive citizens who even appear on CSPAN as advocates of people with similar neurological disabilities?
No, we’re not. I won’t. And I hope you won’t either.

You don’t need the government until you need the government

Whew! That’s was a crazy little hurricane. Several people dead in the Caribbean and in the United States. Lots of property damage. Schools and businesses closed. It was a mess, and it will probably continue to be a mess for a while.

I was listening to the local radio this morning, and they were interviewing a woman from Delaware who stayed in her house on the beach despite the mandatory evacuations issued by the governor and local officials. She said that she was flooded, had raw sewage in her basement, a neighbor’s house was gone, and that she was basically isolated because the only road to the peninsula where she lived was gone. She was also very angry because no one was coming to her aid. She said that she was a taxpayer, and she expected her taxes to pay for her rescue. When she was reminded that she chose to stay despite the evacuation orders, she said that the people who decided that the evacuation order was necessary were useless.

On the one hand, she needed the services of the government she helps fund. On the other, she didn’t pay attention to the expert recommendations of the government she helps fund.

If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the mindset of the conspiracy theorist, the hardcore anti-vaccine person, and all sorts of other individuals and groups. But let me stick to what I know best: the anti-vaxxer.

The anti-vaxxer will typically point to a study as evidence of their fears on vaccines. Said study will be conducted by some academic institution or government agency. However, if the study disagrees with the anti-vaccine worldview, then whatever organization conducted the study is said to be “pharma funded” or have some other “conflict of interest”. The anti-vaxxer wants it both ways.

Likewise, many anti-vaccine organizations will point to records in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) as evidence that vaccines cause harm. Then, in the same sentence, they will demonize the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for hiding the “truth”. Well, it happens that VAERS is maintained by epidemiologists and staff from CDC. Again, they want to have it both ways. When asked if the CDC lies or not, the answer is “it depends”, and it’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out at the level of hypocrisy displayed.

And that’s how it goes. If something agrees with their fears, the run with it. If it disagrees, then that something is part of a big conspiracy. Just like many people who are against “big government”, they don’t want it interfering in their lives, until they need it to interfere in their lives… Until they need to be saved.

It annoys me.

When the chips are down

There are two lines of reasoning when it comes to major disasters. One states that, when the chips are down, humans will revert to behaving like animals and survival of the fittest will morph into survival of the strongest. (Strongest are not always the fittest. Not when it comes to humans.) Basically, we get the world where Mad Max exists and law and order have disappeared and get replaced with brute force and odd alliances.

The other line of reasoning is one where we all stick together to try to get over the disaster and make the best of it. The line of command in civil and military authority is preserved, and we all pull together to help each other get by. There is no looting, no price gouging, no roving gangs trying to assert their authority. In short, we get the Star Trek scenario where something like WW3 makes us ban war and come to our collective senses.

But let’s not talk about fiction. Let’s talk about real situations. On September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brought down two enormous office buildings in New York City, collapsed part of the Pentagon just outside Washington, DC, and brought down a plane in Pennsylvania. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered an immediate grounding of all flights over the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. Communities with airports had to suddenly deal with a mass of passengers that landed and another mass that couldn’t leave. Yet we didn’t hear of any kinds of riots at airports. We all kind of knew that there was something going on that was more important than us getting somewhere on a schedule.

In New York City, all available first responders headed to the site of the World Trace Center towers to try and help survivors of the collapses. This included policemen and, eventually, national guardsmen. And yet crime in the city actually declined despite the fact that most of the police departments were involved in the rescue efforts. Well, either it truly declined or the victims of the crimes didn’t deem it necessary (or just plain couldn’t) report the crimes in light of what was going on. All in all, during the attacks of September 11, we all stuck together.

Yet the attacks were not a disaster in that basic infrastructure was kept intact. The chain of command in civil and military authority was not broken. Hospitals were open for business, electricity flowed freely, and the confusion and commotion was limited to only those places where planes went down. For an example where everything collapsed, let’s look at Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Now, that was a mess. Even with days of advance notice, very few people of New Orleans heeded the advice to evacuate. Few, relatively speaking. There were still enough people who tried to leave and ended up jamming the highways and roads leading out of the city. In my opinion, the leadership of the city made a big mistake in having people cram into the football stadium as well. You just can’t put that many people in an enclosed space like that without supplies and without authorities to manage the situation. But that’s neither here or there.

We all saw what happened. The water levels rose and inundated neighborhoods. Those who stayed had a collapse of infrastructure seen only before in places outside of the United States. There was looting. There were people in mortal danger not only from the storm but from each other. It was utter chaos. The kicker was that the government at all three levels failed to be prepared and respond appropriately, even with days of warning of the impending disaster.

So what’s going to happen next time the chips are down? Because there will be a next time.

I write this because this is where “The Poxes” is heading. There is an impending disaster coming to that universe because of the events in the first two chapters. Our hero will find himself in a losing fight against not only the interests of the anti-vaccine people who are pushing to do away with all vaccines, but there are other forces at play in his town. And so, I intend to analyze what happens when the chips are down. Who will step up to the fight?