Is autism either being more precisely identified, or simply increasing?

Autism is now appearing in 1 in 88 children according to the CDC. The question is whether or not autism in actually on the rise or is being identified sooner as a result of more precise diagnostic techniques.

I recall reading a few short years ago the notion that autism may be increasing as a result of internet dating, a means by which individuals with more milder forms of autism--and who according to the reports seem to have a higher-than-average representation in the sciences--could meet. A little bit of autism here and a little bit there and then...more autism?

However, I don't think the idea was simply that. One of the proponents of this idea (Susan Greenfield if I recall) seemed to take the position that increased internet usage (and that was a few years ago, say about five or six--online time has increased considerably since then) was actually affecting the development of the brain.

Interestingly enough, I recently read "The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains" by Nicholas Carr. The book is a compelling read and was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction.

Carr also wrote an article for The Atlantic Monthly titled "Is Google making us stupid?". My feeling is yes. Carr wrote that acquiring information through web documents that are extensively hyperlinked provides a disruptive effect between the temporary storage of newly learned information and the physical transfer of this information into areas of the brain that serve as long-term storage.

Basically, the constant flitting about online has the effect of overwhelming what is referred to as our working memory, thus preventing the ability of individuals to retain what they are exposed to. This in turn has a dumbing down effect because it hampers the development of schemas of organized knowledge that, ordinarily, would serve as a mental library that provides context and insight for all the information that we continually come across (and these days, that's a lot).

In short, we should expect upcoming generations of children to be better multi-taskers but with poorer attention spans, less accumulated in-depth knowledge, and, most distressingly, less insight and, perhaps, poorer judgement.

It makes me wonder how difficult things may be for teachers and parents in the coming years.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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