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Views & Reviews Review of the Week

How the autism epidemic came to be

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 09 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d852
  1. Iain McClure, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh
  1. imcclure{at}

The marked rise in autism may be the result of changes in diagnostic criteria. But what led to developmental disorders in children being reconceptualised? Iain McClure enjoyed this book that tells the story from a sociological perspective

The word “autism” and its adjective, “autistic,” have become high profile terms in the 21st century, and we show no signs of becoming less interested in them and what they mean. If anything, the autism world seems set to expand. Why? Why would a condition that causes varying degrees of social and communicative difficulty move from being the subject of private family distress and ultraspecialist clinical curiosity into a global cultural phenomenon?

The most recent books or articles about autism have been written by clinicians, parents, or “higher functioning” autistic people themselves. Now Gil Eyal and colleagues, five sociologists from Columbia University, have brought a fresh perspective from a different discipline to try to explain autism’s expansion in prevalence and popularity.

Focusing mainly on the story as it has developed in the United States, the authors describe a collision of disparate events that have caused …

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