Thomas Sowell

Another sign of autism: "Speech and/or language are either absent, delayed, or disordered." This dragnet would bring in the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein, India's mathematical genius Ramanujan, Nobel Prizewinning economist Gary Becker, and physicists Richard Feynman, Edward Teller and Albert Einstein -- among many others.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, people are pushing for a federal dragnet to find "autistic" children and subject them to "treatment" that none of us would want to undergo. They assure us that "experienced professionals" can identify autism in children as young as two years of age.

Even assuming that this is true, how many highly trained professionals are available to evaluate the vast numbers of children who would be caught in a nationwide "autism" dragnet? Would the whole country become Nebraska writ large?

Many children have already been labeled "autistic" or "retarded" on the basis of evaluations that lasted less then ten minutes -- and many of these evaluations have later been contradicted, either by more highly qualified specialists or by the course of events as the child developed.

Parents need to seek out the best available medical and other evaluations of a child with problems. But that is very different from a federal dragnet controlled by armies of bureaucrats who can plague parents and children alike.

Parents of late-talking children have reported that they have been urged to allow their kids to be labeled "autistic" in order to get federal money that can be used for speech therapy. Maybe that has contributed to the "increase" in autism we hear about -- which in turn has contributed to the stampede for a new federal program.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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