The number of autism diagnoses in the U.S. have been rising precipitously over the handful of years that the CDC has been tracking it; the health organization is expected to release its latest numbers any day now, and early reports indicate that more than one in 100 children born in 2000 were diagnosed on the Autistic spectrum, compared with one in 110 for children born in 1998. Utah’s numbers, already released, show Autism rates of one in 77 for children born in 2000, a 73% increase over six years. In the UK, the Daily Mail reports that they’ve seen a 56% increase in diagnoses in five years.
Just about every aspect of the complicated developmental disorder is subject to vigorous, passionate debate—its causes, its treatments, and the meaning of its growth. The one constant in Autism seems to be the dramatic increase in diagnoses of it—and the subsequent increase in books on the diagnosis. According to (rigorous but highly unscientific) research, the Tip Sheet found a 533% increase in books on autism over the past dozen years, from 175 in 2000 to 932 in 2011—for a 2011 average of 18 per week. This week, there’s just 12 (12!), including a fresh look at the possible causes of autism from environmental reporter Brita Belli, called The Autism Puzzle (out from Seven Stories on Mar. 27).
In The Autism Puzzle, Belli sidesteps the heated, years-long mercury-in-vaccines debate (subject of a CurrentTV documentary that debuted on Mar. 24) to put the finger on the cumulative effect of household chemicals and medications, including mercury—but from fish, not vaccines: “a tuna sandwich contains more mercury than a typical vaccine dose,” she told the Tip Sheet. Other triggers include flame retardants, pesticides, certain drugs administered during pregnancy, and ingredients commonly found in hairspray and many kinds of plastic (including food containers and shrink-wrap).
Belli, who found her way to the autism beat through a cover story for her bimonthly publication E: The Environmental Magazine, told the Tip Sheet that “even today, we are at the early stages of discovering how many of the chemicals we are exposed to impact developing brains.” Her work took her deep into the lives of three families, and what she learned was “absolutely a revelation to me.” Despite differing backgrounds and beliefs, the families “all have in common parents who are unbelievable advocates for their children with autism, who are tireless in their efforts to find help and support for them, and who manage to have incredibly positive attitudes about their lives despite enormous day-to-day difficulties.” In other words, ideal customers for book publishers.
Here’s 11 more titles for those affected by autism, broken down by topic:
Uplifting family memoirs: Carly's Voice: Breaking Through Autism by Arthur Fleischmann with Carly Fleischmann (Touchstone, Mar. 27) and Next Stop: A Memoir of Family by Glen Finland (Putnam, Mar. 29). The Fleischmanns tell the story of their daughter, Carly, who lagged behind her twin sister in speaking and crawling, was diagnosed as pervasively developmentally delayed, but today takes mainstream gifted classes and serves as an autism spokesperson. Finland tells the story of her son David’s struggles with autism, and the family’s struggle to maintain their sanity and civility, on the way to establishing an independent and productive adulthood for David.
Celebrity awareness raising: The Golden Hat: Talking Back to Autism by Kate Winslet (Simon & Schuster, Mar. 27). Movie star Winslet got involved with autism after narrating a documentary on autism (A Mother’s Courage) during which she befriended the mom and son at the movie’s center. Since then, she’s established the Golden Hat Foundation to raise money and create learning communities for autistic kids, which she continues with this volume of photos featuring her famous friends (Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Elton John, Woody Allen) posing with the eponymous trilby.
Therapy guides for parents and professionals: The Autism Revolution: Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be by Harvard researcher Martha Herbert and Karen Weintraub (Ballantine, Mar. 27) takes an all-the-above approach to curbing the more destructive and dispruptive symptoms, involving “optimal” nutrition, avoiding toxins and stress, and shoring up the immune system. Kids Beyond Limits by Anat Baniel (Perigee, Mar. 27) focuses on physical movement to develop self-awareness and “harness the brain’s capacity to heal itself” in children with autism as well as ADHD and other disorders.
Autism: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Child's Quality of Life (Piatkus, Apr. 1) was written by Jonathan and Polly Tommey, UK parents of a child diagnosed with severe autism, who armed themselves with knowledge and ultimately started an autism clinic and a quarterly magazine called The Autism File. On March 30, Paul H. Brookes releases the latest version of Robert L. and Lynn Kern Koegel’s The PRT Pocket Guide: Pivotal Response Treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders, a mainstream approach to autism that uses “natural learning opportunities to modify pivotal areas of behavior.” The Neurofeedback Solution by Stephen Larsen (Healing Arts, Mar. 29) takes a look at the methods and potential of the therapeutic technique called neurofeedback, alone and in combination with breathwork, mindfulness, meditation, and other exercises.
And for those who put their stock in the food-allergy theory of autism, there’s the latest edition of The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook: The Ultimate Guide to the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet by Pamela J. Compart (Fairwinds, Apr. 1), updated and revised with current research findings as well as hundreds of recipes and tips for winning over picky eaters.
For kids: Autistic? How Silly is That!: I Don't Need Any Labels at All by Lynda Farrington Wilson (Future Horizons, Apr. 1) is a picture book that shows kids with autism that they are more than a label, and how autism is just one of many qualities they posess.
For young adults: A Full Life With Autism: From Learning to Forming Relationships to Achieving Independence by author Chantal Sicile-Kira and her 23-year-old autistic son Jeremy Sicile-Kira, and with a foreword by Temple Grandin (Palgrave McMillan, Mar. 27), is a guide to the next phase of life for those with autism, the tricky transitional years from child to adult, focusing on practical matters like finding and keeping a meaningful job, finding adult resources, living apart from family, and developing new relationships.