The problem is lack of institutional memory. bmj 23 January 2005
Hilary Butler,
freelance journalist
home NZ 1892 bmj

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Re: The problem is lack of institutional memory.

Dear Sir,

In the debate on whether or not the increase in Autism is real, there is something that has been forgotten. The people who pontificate on these things are "medical" ~~* experts*~~ , who by and large, are rotated in their jobs, and rarely have more than a decade in any specific area.

However, the people who can really answer these questions are people like my husband, who spent the whole of his working life, until retirement, in the school system.

He has also had 15 more years to sit back, watch and listen.

When I read the original article to him, his comments were revealing. Along the lines of... "In my first three decades as a teacher, any autistic spectrum disorder was such a novelty, that it was the major focus of discussion at both regional and national conventions.

If the increase in Autism isn't real, but simply recognises that medical people then, were too stupid to diagnose what was in front of their eyes, then why did we not see it then? Were we stupid too? And where are all these adults who should be walking around with autistic spectrum disorders, that we never saw as kids?

And why is it that autism spectrum disorders are SO common now, that rather than talk about them with interest at conventions, teachers are exhausted off their feet. They are more likely to share desperation tactics about how to try to devise workable systems in classrooms where two or three of these children spend their time disrupting everyone else's lives and thinking?"

As far as he is concerned, he can look back, and see a time when teaching was very straightforward. Autism in actuality was so rare, that the children got excellent care in his school. Why? Because there was only likely ever, to be one, in any school, if that. Far more likely, was the problem of highly bright children, held back by a system which took away their self initiative and imagination. But at least Teacher aide could be diverted when needed to provide the support that the rare autistic child needed, when they needed it.

Now, there are so many autistic children, or children with behavioural problems almost identical to autism, that Teacher Aides are just about needed for normal children, let alone Autistic spectrum children.

If the medical profession honestly thinks that the "increase" in autism is an artifact produced by historical diagnostic ignorance, they should think again.

Because in the minds of people who DO remember a time when Autism was something you checked in the dictionary as to how to spell the word, such a statement isn't just ludicrous; it also raises questions, and these questions are:

What have doctors got to hide, that they want to try to persuade people that a "real" increase (that we as long term teachers see as a "real" increase,) was actually a result of their own stupidity?

Are doctors trying to tell us, that we, as teachers, were also so stupid that we didn't see "autism" then, but do now?

What does such an "explanation" show about their new-found intelligence today?

Hilary Butler.

Competing interests: None declaredv-