Interesting story in today’s Chicago Tribune but it appears this story is
getting national coverage as a series on autism.
Autism hidden in plain sight
As more children are diagnosed with autism, researchers are trying to find unrecognized cases of the disorder in adults. The search for the missing millions is just beginning.
Alan Zarembo, Los Angeles Times
December 16, 2011
Last of four parts
When autism researchers arrived at Norristown State Hospital near Philadelphia a few years ago, they found a 63-year-old man who rambled on about Elvis Presley, compulsively rocked in his chair and patted the corridor walls.
Ben Perrick, a resident of the psychiatric institution for most of his life, displayed what the University of Pennsylvania researchers considered classic symptoms of autism. His chart, however, said he was schizophrenic and mentally retarded.
Delving into the file, the researchers learned that as a 10-year-old, Perrick had seen Dr. Leo Kanner, the psychiatrist who discovered autism. In his notes from 1954, Kanner described Perrick as “a child who is self centered, withdrawn, and unable to relate to other people,” and recommended that he be committed.
Later, other doctors relabeled Perrick. The autism diagnosis was forgotten.
The researchers found 13 other patients with unrecognized autism in the Norristown hospital — about 10% of the residents they evaluated. It was a sign of how medical standards and social attitudes toward the disorder have shifted.
Over the last two decades, estimates of the autism rate in U.S. children have climbed twentyfold. Many scientists believe the increase has been driven largely by an expanded definition of the disorder and more vigorous efforts to identify it.
Scientists are just beginning to find cases that were overlooked or called something else in an earlier era. If their research shows that autism has always been present at roughly the same rate as today, it could ease worries that an epidemic is on the loose.