Is the ‘autism epidemic’ real? Researchers say over-diagnosis to blame for spike in number of cases

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other anti-vaccine crusaders have long and falsely blamed vaccines for breeding an “epidemic” of autism.

But is the epidemic even real?

According to the authors of a new study, the astonishing explosion in the number of diagnosed cases of autism is the result of a broadening of the definition of what counts as “autism” — so much so that the differences between people diagnosed with autism and the rest of the population are shrinking.

“The pretend epidemic of autism is related to the inclusion of people less and less different from non-autistics,” said co-author Dr. Laurent Mottron, a professor in the Université de Montréal’s department of psychiatry.

In research published this week in JAMA Psychiatry, Mottron and colleagues reviewed 11 meta-analyses (studies of studies) published between 1966 and 2019 that compared individuals with and without autism.

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