Thomas Sowell

Instead of trying to reduce mistaken diagnoses that inflict needless trauma on parents and often direct children into programs for autistic children that are counterproductive for children who are not autistic, the expansive new concept of an "autism spectrum" provides wiggle room for those who were wrong, so that they can avoid having to admit that they were wrong -- and avoid having to stop being wrong.

It is as if people who told you that your little toddler would need a seeing-eye dog are able to get off the hook when the passage of time proved them wrong by saying that, because he now wears glasses, he is still on the blindness spectrum.

There is another aspect of this that affects the public in general and the taxpayers in particular. Time and again over the past decade, parents have told me that they have been urged to allow their late-talking children to be labeled "autistic" so that they would be eligible to get government money that can be used for speech therapy or whatever else the child might need.

Against that background, consider the widely publicized statistics showing an unbelievable rate of increase in autism in recent years. Is this a real change in the same thing or a redefinition of words? Worse yet, is this the corrupting effect of government money intended for children who are genuinely autistic?

Apparently no one knows the answer. But what is very disturbing is that such questions are not even on the agenda.

Studies of highly intelligent children show them to have many of the characteristics that can get them labeled autistic if they happen to be late in beginning to speak. For example, the book "Gifted Children" by Ellen Winner shows that such children "often play alone and enjoy solitude," have "almost obsessive interests" and "prodigious memories."

Such characteristics are an open invitation to false diagnoses of autism by those who are on the irresponsibility spectrum.

Thomas Sowell

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

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