Autism advocates and government officials testified in front of a congressional committee Thursday about the federal response to the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses in recent years.
One in every 88 babies born in the U.S. will develop autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a 23 percent increase since 2009 and a 78 percent increase since 2007. In the 1960s, autism was believed to affect one in 10,000 children in the U.S.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned representatives of the National Institutes of Health and CDC about research priorities and subsequent results. A second panel of autism advocates testified about concerns ranging from research priorities to services for people with autism. See the video here.
Some of the committee members harshly criticized the NIH and CDC for a lack of effective results, while agency officials at times struggled to come up with answers.
Some highlights from the hearing:
Congressmen, led by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IL), a longtime proponent of vaccine safety, urged NIH and CDC to get mercury out of all childhood vaccines. Thimerosal, a mercury preservative, was removed from most, but not all childhood vaccines by 2003.
Representatives of NIH and CDC claimed that much, and possibly all of the increase in autism rates can be accounted for by better detection, a claim that was questioned by many congressmen and disputed by Mark Blaxill of SafeMinds.
“Some observers have claimed this rise is not real,” Blaxill told the committee. “That numbers are going up because of ‘better diagnosing.’ While it is true that we now diagnose autism with better tools, that doesn’t mean there is some ‘hidden horde’ of overlooked autism cases. The old surveys didn’t just miss 99% of children with autism. Anyone who reads them will see the obvious: it’s clear the researchers were diligent in finding cases and confident that they found the vast majority of children. It’s horrible but true; reported rates of autism have risen simply because there are more cases of autism.”
Blaxill also urged the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee to focus on environmental causes of autism instead of genetics.
Vaccine critics have also questioned why the government hasn’t conducted studies of vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), asked this very question of Collen Boyle of the CDC.
She talked about vaccines in general, then was interrupted by Posey, who clarified the question: “So clearly, definitely, unequivocally, you have studied vaccinated versus unvaccinated?”
“We have not studied vaccinated versus unvaccinated,” replied Boyle.
“Never mind. Stop there. That was the meaning of my question. You wasted two minutes of my time,” said Posey.
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