President Donald Trump claimed there was a “big increase” in autism at a meeting with educators Tuesday, despite no evidence to support his claim.
“Have you seen a big increase in the autism with the children?” Trump asked Jane Quenneville, the principal of a Virginia school for special education, at the White House.
Quenneville responded that her school has “shifted its population” to provide for more autistic students.
“So what’s going on with autism?” Trump asked. “When you look at the tremendous increase, it’s really such an incredible — it’s really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase. Do you have any idea?”
“Maybe we can do something,” Trump added.
There is no evidence to support this claim. The only people that make this claim are anti-vaxxers like Robert Kennedy Jr., whom Trump met and apparently placed on a task force on “vaccination safety.”
According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children have autism and that figure is unchanged from their prior estimate.
Autism expert Steve Silberman told Science of Us that there is no consensus that there has been any increase in autism rates and attributes any increase to more awareness and parents having their children tested when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“There’s no consensus as to whether or not there’s been any significant increase in the actual prevalence of autism, period,” Silberman said. “The real debate is whether or not there has been a small increase, and there are a number of factors that could play a role in that small increase.”
“For instance, it’s well established that older parents have more autistic kids and people are waiting longer to get married and have kids now, so there may be a small increase there. Some people claim that there are some environmental factors — notably, not vaccines — that may be contributing to a small increase.”
“But the consensus is that there has been no huge, startling, ‘horrible,’ as Trump said, increase in autism. And the CDC estimate has been flat for a couple of years, just as they expected it to be, because the major source of the increase that started in the 1990s was broadened diagnostic criteria and much more public awareness of what autism looks like.”