Autism Apocalypse by 2025?

What would happen if the prediction by MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff came true?

Posted Sep 11, 2014

On June 5, MIT scientist Stephanie Seneff blamed increased autism rates on exposure to the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and warned that by 2025 HALF of all U.S. children would be autistic.

Given my obvious interest in the subject and the tendency of family, friends and even casual acquaintances to forward me stories about everything autism, I was shocked it took me until this week to learn about Seneff’s truly terrifying forecast.  

So I Googled “stephanie seneff quack,” the easiest way I’ve found of assessing credibility in the scientific community, and quickly learned that Seneff’s is quite low. Her advanced degrees are in electrical engineering and computer science, not medicine or anything remotely related to autism. And she is still actively arguing that vaccines cause autism, a theory that has been repeatedly discredited through multiple studies published in peer reviewed journals.

Still, Seneff’s presentation haunts me. Just last month, my husband and I were discussing that very possibility – as a hypothetical situation, not as an outcome predicted by a scientist at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. What would we do if half of all children had autism? Would people still choose to reproduce? Would they be willing to take that risk? How would the government respond?

I have to admit, my imagination failed me. I was a fiction writer in my previous life, and still I could not conceive of what we as a society would do if half the children born were autistic. To quantify that a bit more specifically, consider that approximately four million babies are born in the United States each year. That means, obviously, that two million of those would be autistic. And if current percentages hold, 40% (800,000) would also be intellectually disabled, 20% (400,000) would be completely non-verbal, and more than 50% (1,000,000) would exhibit aggressive behaviors. Each year.

The Journal of the American Medical Association just reported in June that the lifetime cost of caring for an individual with autism ranges from $1.4 million to $2.4 million (for those with intellectual disability as well). Obviously, an autism epidemic of this magnitude would make spending at those levels unsustainable.

So what would happen to the kids? I can’t help but think of Doris Lessing’s 1989 novel The Fifth Child, which tells the story of a family whose youngest child is a psychopath. It has nothing to do with autism per se, but the part that has stuck with me is the institution for unmanageable children in which this boy is briefly placed before his mother changes her mind. When she goes to retrieve him, she discovers that the kids in this facility are constantly sedated until they die from overmedication.

I’d like to think that couldn’t really happen – not today, not in our society. But I also can’t imagine how the government could care for the enormous number of severely afflicted individuals, even if those who were higher functioning were supported by their families alone.

So I am asking you – not rhetorically, but because I really want to know: What do you think life would be like in the United States if half the children born were autistic? I am very interested to read your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks!