The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

We can now talk in percentages

with one comment

2 government studies suggest the rate of autism in children is now 1 in 100, higher than the previous rate of 1 in 150. Do the math, and that means 1% of all children are autistic. If the diagnosis rate continues to climb, the percentages could become more alarming depending on who reports the findings.

Of course, that’s a very low percentage of all children, but that means roughly 673,000 kids living in the country have some variant of the autism spectrum. One study hasn’t been publicly released yet, but as you’ll see in the article, there is some skepticism over the research that led to autism’s higher prevalence in children.

One of the golden rules in journalism is to show objectivity (although that’s thrown out the window if you’re MSNBC or FOX News), and fairness is usually achieved by reporting from the two most common sides of an issue. In this case, people who believe the rate of autism is climbing and those who dispute the results. Spectators who are really curious about what’s being said can often trace the people interviewed in an article and discover any affiliations that may influence what’s being said on paper or on camera (this often sways political stories). The end result is often a he-said/she-said debate over a finding that really doesn’t generate a deep discussion in news, as proponents on both sides will look for whatever agrees with their viewpoint.

Despite the new 1:100 ratio, journalists still use a paragraph (or a voice-over if it’s TV) explaining autism to its viewers. The explanation indicates autism isn’t common knowledge yet. Pay attention for the line or sound bite defining autism in future articles, as its omission will serve as a signal that enough people know about autism to get past the question of what it is.


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  1. […] autism or Asperger Syndrome, but summarizes the disability in a way the mainstream can understand. I discussed the significance of both findings in a post I made in October reporting the government s…. The New York Times may be considering the increase of awareness from the increase in autism […]

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