The paper is divided into four sections. In the first section, we examinethe data on the prevalence of autism in industrialized countries and in Mexico.The second and third parts examine public special education and privateprograms for children with autism. Finally, in the fourth section, we examine thepolitics of policymaking, with a focus on the activities of disability rights andadvocacy organizations.
Data from recent studies suggest that prevalence of autism in industrializedcountries may be higher than what had been estimated in previous research. In areview of 16 studies from 1993 to 2003 completed in the U.S., U.K. France,Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Japan, Eric Frombonne found that the medianestimate of prevalence of autism and autism spectrum disorders from thesestudies was 1.3 per 1,000 children.
In 2006, the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention (CDC) reported its first national estimate of ASD prevalenceamong children in the U.S. The CDC study, which did not distinguish amongparent-reported diagnoses of childhood autism, ASD, or ‘atypical’ autism,
suggested that the prevalence rate among children in the U.S. is between 5.5 and5.7 per 1,000 children (or approximately one in 175, to one in 181 children).
Studies of administrative prevalence in selected U.S. states (as measured by normalized prevalence of students receiving special education services) suggest aten-fold increase from 1995 through 2004 in some areas.
The reported increasein prevalence has been subject to debate; factors implicated in the trend includechanges in diagnostic criteria, better surveillance, environmental exposure,genetic and environmental interaction, perinatal risk factors (e.g., pre-termdelivery, etc.), parental age, and diagnostic substitution.
In Mexico, epidemiological estimates of autism prevalence at the nationalor state level do not exist. Clinical studies and medical reports in Mexico tend toreport prevalence rates that are based upon samples from the U.S. and U.K.
Theonly Mexican data available on autism prevalence refer to reports from surveys of families, as measured through a registry of minors with disabilities that was firstcompleted in 1996.
notes that this survey, the
Registro de Niños conDiscapacidad
, was national in its scope and yielded a total childhood disability rate consistent with estimated rates from other developing countries. Accordingto the survey, the total number of children in Mexico identified with autism in1996 was 45,956. We combined the registry data with Mexican census data for1996 for the relevant age group in order to calculate (provisionally) a childhoodautism rate (ages 0-15) in Mexico of approximately 1.43 per 1,000.
Because theregistry data represent an undercount of the true prevalence of disability in thepopulation, this estimate should be treated as provisional and with caution.Moreover, while members of advocacy organizations suggest that autism hasincreased in Mexico, we lack any longitudinal data on the growth trajectory of autism since the 1990s.Social acceptance of people with disabilities, including people with autism, varies throughout Mexico.
Although the government has attempted to findemployment for adults with disabilities, many face discrimination in the labor