10 of Psychology's Greatest Myths

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There's an Autism Epidemic

Autism is a "disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior."

Prior to the 1990s, the prevalence of autism in the United States was estimated at 1 in 2,500. In 2007, that rate was 1 in 150. In March, the CDC announced new, startling numbers: 1 in 68. What's going on?

The meteoric rise in diagnoses has prompted many to cry "epidemic!" Fearful, they look for a reason, and often latch onto vaccines.

But vaccines are not the cause. The most likely explanation is far less frightening.

Over the past decades, the diagnostic criteria for autism have been significantly loosened. Each of the last three major revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has made it much easier for psychiatrists to diagnose the disorder. When a 2005 study conducted in England tracked autism cases between 1992 and 1998 using identical diagnostic criteria, the rates didn't budge.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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