Kathleen Sebelius on Autism “Awareness”


Richard Moore

Bcc: contributors

http://snipurl.com/vg300 [Age of Autism]

April 12, 2010

Kathleen Sebelius on Autism “Awareness.” Asleep at the Wheel?

By Anne Dachel

In case anyone is interested what health authorities have to say about Autism Awareness Day/Month, I ran across a six sentence statement from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on the disorder affecting one percent of U.S. children.

During National Autism Awareness Month, we reflect on an urgent public health challenge and rededicate ourselves to addressing the complex needs of people with autism and their families. Over the last decade, we’ve learned that autism is far more prevalent than we had previously believed, affecting one out of every 110 American children. While we still have a lot to learn about what causes autism and which treatments can help people with autism thrive, we’re getting closer to finding answers thanks to a historic new investment in autism research… (HERE)

I also did a search in order to compare what was said by officials three years ago, back in 2008, the first Autism Awareness Day/Month and here’s what I found:  

Tuesday, April 1, 2008
 Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

World Autism Awareness Day
Today, on the first World Autism Awareness Day, we pause to reaffirm our commitment to protecting the health of children in our country and throughout the world.  Our determination remains strong as we continue our research efforts to increase understanding of how to treat and prevent autism and autism spectrum disorders.

People with these conditions, and members of their families, rely on the knowledge that science can offer. But there is much we do not yet understand. This is why we actively pursue research into genetic and environmental factors that may be involved in autism, and why we search for new treatments and therapies that may improve the quality of life for people with autism.  Although we continue to evaluate vaccine safety to ensure we are providing the safest immunizations for our children, there is no credible scientific evidence to date that links vaccines to the development of autism, Therefore, we recommend that parents continue to have their children vaccinated.  Vaccines have been one of the greatest medical advances in the past century. Vaccines have prevented — in some cases eliminated — many childhood diseases that were once considered unavoidable.

There also are steps that parents of young children with autism can take, because treatment given early offers hope of reducing the impact of the condition.  It is crucial to know the developmental milestones in how young children play, learn, speak and act.  A delay in any of these areas could be a sign of a developmental problem, including autism.  The good news is, however, that the earlier the condition is recognized, the more parents can do to help their children reach their full potential.  We encourage all parents to “Learn the Signs. Act Early’’ by visiting http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/actearly(HERE) 

We know that autism is a heart-wrenching condition that presents special challenges for many families.  While we are physicians, we are also parents. We want parents of all children with autism to know that we are listening to them, not just today, but every day.
Back in 2008, the statement was twice as long as today and it was a joint statement from the CDC, FDA, NIH, and HHS.

In 2008, the issue of a link between vaccines and autism was addressed with a strong denial and a recommendation to parents to vaccinate.  In 2010, Sebelius doesn’t bring up the controversial topic.

 In 2008, autism was described as “a heart-wrenching condition.” Today, Sebelius has reduced that to “an urgent public health challenge.”  

While the rate for autism in 2008 was one in every 150 children and today it’s one in every 110, Sebelius merely says in 2010 that “we’ve learned that autism is far more prevalent than we had previously believed.”  Prevalence of course refers to recognition of the disorder, it doesn’t mean that there’s been an actual increase in the number of children affected.
 Three years ago, officials marked WAAD by saying they were looking for ways to “prevent autism.”  Today, Sebelius doesn’t use the word prevent.

Three years ago, officials noted that they were actively pursuing “environmental factors” that may be involved in autism.  Today the word environmental isn’t noted when Sebelius mentions autism research.

The one thing in common in both statements is the admission that health authorities can’t tell us anything substantial about a disorder overwhelming a generation of children.  

Three years ago, we were told, “There is much we do not yet understand.”  In 2010, Sebelius advises us, “We still have a lot to learn about what causes autism.”

It’s hard to see a lot that has changed between 2008 and 2010, except that the severity of the autism epidemic seems to be downplayed a bit more.  But there was one striking difference I noticed right away.

Three years ago health officials promised: “We want parents of all children with autism to know that we are listening to them, not just today, but every day.”  This year, Sebelius doesn’t even pretend any U.S. health official is willing to consider what parents have to say.


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