If Colorado declares autism an ‘epidemic,’ it could have very impactful social effects (letter)

Since 1992, there has been a 41,729 percent increase in diagnoses of disorders on the autism spectrum. Bill HB18-1223 is a piece of legislation in Colorado that is attempting to declare autism as an epidemic, raise awareness and gain funds to further research the issue.

Autism not only affects social interaction but also is associated with gastrointestinal issues, depression, autoimmune diseases and severe allergies. In the bill, an epidemic is defined as a health concern that is affecting the same group of people at exponential and unusually high rates that are not clearly explainable.

The bill does not identify possible reasons for this increase in autism. The bill acknowledges that declaring autism as an epidemic will raise the necessary awareness to spur research, but it does not outline the use of funds, weakening the validity of the bill.

With the rising field of epigenetics (the study of how the environment can alter which genes are turned on or off), there should be research conducted to identify differences in prenatal care in Colorado, since the affected age group of this increase in autism is persons younger than 18. Being one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, perhaps an increased use of the drug during pregnancy could be factoring into increased diagnoses.

With the declaration of an epidemic, especially autism, which typically the general public would not associate with the phrase “epidemic,” could have very impactful social effects. Many declared epidemics such as influenza are visible and are spreading rapidly because they are contagious. Even the argument to address the opioid crisis in America has certain negative social connotations to it because it deals with the abuse of drugs.

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Autism, however, is a disorder that mainly interferes with social interactions and communication, unlike any other declared epidemic. While the increasing rate is concerning and should be explored through further research, a legislative piece with potentially harmful language is not necessarily the best way to accomplish this.

Emma Calarco


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