In Memoriam Clara Claiborne Park
Nox et Lux

O New York Times

Autism: A Disease of the Rich? is the title of a New York Times Freakonomics blog post on this PLOS One study, Socioeconomic Inequality in the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence from a U.S. Cross-Sectional Study

Oh gawd.

Sure, families with more economic resources are more likely to have access to doctors, school services, therapists, information and education that might lead them to suspect and seek out an autism spectrum diagnosis for their child, and then to be able to provide that child with supports and services. 

In the effort of providing such (services, supports) for our particular (lovely, autistic) child, it would be inaccurate to say that we have become richer, in an economic sense. Let's not even bring up having dental surgery under anesthesia at a hospital to get 'routine dental care' performed; maintaining two residences for a few years (that is, paying mortgage + rent) so Charlie could attend an in-district autism program whose personnel in the end decided that he should be, at least temporarily, institutionalized; paying up various bills for home repairs (plumbers are not cheap, especially if called repeatedly), car upkeep, etc., etc.. 

And I'm not even throwing in bills for private ABA/speech/occupational/physical/ETC. therapy, or the rate we paid sitters when we could find people to watch Charlie. 

If we were 'rich' and then Charlie got diagnosed with autism---a correlation suggested by the New York Times Freakonomics blog post's irresponsible headline---then allow me to suggest a few corollaries.

If autism is a disease of the rich, this is a good thing, as you would otherwise become poor paying for all of the above.

Or perhaps more accurately:

If autism is a disease of the rich, it is more technically termed a disease of the financially-strapped after a child is diagnosed. And let's not get started about the employment options, or shamefully huge lack thereof, for many adults.

Or metaphorically:

Autism is a disease of the rich, in what is very much a figurative sense. We are by no means an economically over-endowed household but lemme tell you, every time I see Charlie zooming down the street on his bike, swimming out in the ocean, and just walking through the rooms of our house jabbering away in his one- and three- word utterances, I feel like I've been handed a million dollars.

Yes, maybe autism is a disease of the rich after all.

O New York Times, I know you can't be all that wrong now, can you?



"...I feel like I've been handed a million dollars."


The Freakonomics guys have built a cottage industry on saying controversial things - I try not to let them bother me.

Kristina Chew

This one just seemed over the top---thought I'd post and get things off my back.

Norton Gunthorpe

What a beautiful post.

Kristina Chew

Thank you---


Nicely put, Kristina.

Autism is a condition of rich and poor and in-between; adequately supported autism is too often a condition of the formerly well-off.

Kent Adams

I was an adjunct professor of economics at Duke University for a period in the early 90's before I became a "slave" to an investment bank. The Freakanomics crew is basically two guys, one with an MFA, who did his undergrad work at Appalachian State University. His name is Stephen Dubner. He has a talent with prose and outrageous hyperbole. He's not an economist. The other member of this crew is Steven Levitt. Steven has a remarkable mind but he doesn't engage in hyperbole as much as Mr. Dubner. The piece you linked to is link bait and that is all. Unfortunately, Mr. Dubner has little in the way of morals. I'm not sure if Mr. Levitt even reads Mr. Dubner's columns in the NY Times. I highly doubt he does. Perhaps he should be contacted.

Kent Adams

I'd be interested mostly in who funded this study.

Kristina Chew

Yes, 'link bait'----I didn't all that about Dubner and Levitt. On reading the headling in Google News I felt so irked that I thought it best to write this post, and get on with the day.


Article intended to incite. Lazy summer filler for the Times. Your piece is a perfect response.

Kristina Chew

Thank you, Linda, you said it. May I dare say that the author(s) might do well to reread the PLOSone article; since when did the NYT starting doing HuffPo hype.

Chris Gennaula

Link Bait--exactly!!! But what I find distressing are the comments after such a post from people who really don't have any idea what they are talking about when it comes to autism. Is this what the 'general population' really thinks? Can I take comfort in that leaving such a comment does not require real experience?

Kristina Chew

I'm not taking any comfort......

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