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Keywords:

  • autism;
  • pervasive developmental disability;
  • DSM;
  • prevalence;
  • sample size methodology

Abstract

Since its initial description by Kanner in 1943, the criteria by which a diagnosis of autism or autism-like disorders was made—and their alleged etiologies portrayed—have undergone manifold changes, from a psychiatric disorder engendered by “refridgerator” parents to a neurodevelopmental disability produced in the main by genetic abnormalities. In addition, the behavioral characterization of autism has also entered the public consciousness and professional domains increasingly in the past 30 years, the effects of which we are continually coming to terms. A diagnosis of autism that once seemed quite unusual is now considered almost epidemic. Increasing numbers of individuals diagnosed with autism and related pervasive developmental disabilities will, in turn, affect the calculated prevalence of the disorder. In this essay, I attempt to account for the increasing prevalence of autism and autism-related disorders by examining its changing criteria, the individuals and instruments used to make the diagnosis, the reliability and validity of same, and the sample sizes and other aspects of the methodology needed to make an accurate estimate of its prevalence. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.