According to recent data, 1 in 44 children in the United States have been diagnosed with ASD. (CDC Autism Data). This is up from 1 in 150 in 2000, and when I was a child, I don’t recall ever hearing the word autism.
Why this increase? I think it has nothing to do with environmental changes, and I doubt the percentage of autistic people has significantly changed in recorded history. We live in a world and time when autistic traits are more obvious and often (with some notable exceptions) seen as undesirable.
Another thing that has not changed in human history is the desire people have to feel safe, to not be outnumbered and not feel like an outsider. While there are a few people who can pull off living in complete isolation, it’s not very many, and it’s not an ideal solution, tempting as it can be at times.
In any sort of democratic system, an inherent problem with being a minority is very simple: you are outnumbered. (Systemic racism is a clear example of this.) This point often gets lost on those in the majority, even those with no desire to harm the minority. No matter how much the majority may work to be fair and inclusive towards the minority group, the beliefs and actions of the majority control the group. When you are outnumbered, you still have to rely on others to make sure the majority does not suddenly decide to hurt you. It’s a constant struggle, and it’s as simple as three is greater than two.
If we assume the 1 in 44 statistic to be correct, that means the following is true of children diagnosed with ASD: they are most likely the only child with ASD in each class at school, on the school bus, in many after-school activities, and at social events such as birthday parties. In a big enough crowd, they would have a greater chance of locating a fellow ASD child, but in big crowds . . . they’d both be trying to get out of there. They could meet outside in the parking lot but be too traumatized to interact at that point.
Once a bit older, people can group up more into common interests, some of which tend to attract more autistic people. For those who attend college, one’s major can make it more likely there are fellow ASD people around – certainly those professors with special interests! And, in a workplace environment, some may be in jobs that provide more “numbers” on the autistic side.
One in forty-four . . . is still outnumbered, and it’s not even close to getting you in the group. You just have to hope that any people who understand you can help you, and it never seems to work out that way for me, at least not for long. Besides, they can’t be with you all the time, even though you will want them to be. And, that’s when things usually unravel and I’m out of the herd again.