Skip navigation

Calls to Action

Is Autism an Epidemic?

Anthropologist Argues No;
June 26, 2007


How did autism shift from being a rare disorder, occurring in 3 in 10,000 people, to an "epidemic," occurring in 1 in 166 people? A controversial new book by anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker claims it didn't.

"An increase in prevalence," Grinker says, "is different from an epidemic." He notes that the current rate of 1 in 166 is the best and most accurate rate we've ever had but is not necessarily evidence of an epidemic.

In Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, Grinker undertakes a global study of autism beginning with the personal story of his autistic daughter Isabel and his family's battles with the school system. Grinker uses his research on autism in the United States and abroad to argue that there is no evidence for an autism epidemic, at least epidemic as it is traditionally defined by the medical community. Instead, he writes, the high rates of diagnosis today are evidence that scientists are finally, after all these years, counting cases correctly.

Many parents of children with autism say they disagree with Grinker's theory.

Click here for a book excerpt in which Grinker focuses on his family's personal experience with autism. To learn more about Professor Grinker or obtain a copy of the book, visit the Unstrange Minds web site. Also, see coverage of the epidemic debate at Time.com and Slate.com.