President Donald Trump stated during a meeting with educators and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Feb. 14 that there has been a "tremendous increase" in autism (video below).
"Have you seen a big increase in the autism with the children?" Trump asked Jane Quenneville, who is the principal of a special education center that serves autistic kids and others with disabilities, notes The Hill.
Quenneville told Trump: "Yes, yes. In fact, our school has shifted its population, so more children with autism, definitely."
"So what’s going on with autism?" Trump continued. “When you look at the tremendous increase, it’s really such an incredible, it’s really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase. Do you have any idea? And you're seeing it in the school?"
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"I believe the statistics are 1 in 66, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism," Quenneville replied.
Trump said that he thought the ratio numbers were lower, and added: "Maybe we can do something."
In March 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a press release that a CDC study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summary found no real change in the number of school-aged children with autism, which is 1 in 68.
For years, Trump has tried to link vaccines to childhood autism, a theory that has been scientifically debunked, noted Mashable in January.
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Steve Silberman, an autism expert, told New York Magazine's Science of Us there has not been a huge increase in autism, but there have been changes in the ways that autism is diagnosed:
There’s no consensus as to whether or not there’s been any significant increase in the actual prevalence of autism, period. The real debate is whether or not there has been a small increase, and there are a number of factors that could play a role in that small increase.
For instance, it’s well established that older parents have more autistic kids and people are waiting longer to get married and have kids now, so there may be a small increase there.
Some people claim that there are some environmental factors -- notably, not vaccines — that may be contributing to a small increase. But the consensus is that there has been no huge, startling, "horrible," as Trump said, increase in autism.
And the CDC estimate has been flat for a couple of years, just as they expected it to be, because the major source of the increase that started in the 1990s was broadened diagnostic criteria and much more public awareness of what autism looks like.