Buttigieg: Increase in autism diagnoses due to more people coming 'out of the shadows'

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 Krystal Ball warns about lagging youth support for Buttigieg MORE (D), a 2020 presidential contender, spoke of the need for educators who understand the nature of autism in an interview Tuesday with the progressive organization Supermajority, adding that increased diagnoses are due to people coming “out of the shadows.”

Responding to a question from the mother of an autistic student, Buttigieg said “IEPs [individualized education plans] need to be adapted to support children with autism. Also more broadly, the federal law that creates opportunities for children with different abilities needs to be fully funded. It hasn’t been.”

“We need to make sure that educators and administrators are trained in how to support kids with autism because it’s way more kids than you would think, and we’re learning about this as time goes on [and] more diagnoses happen and more parents and kids come out of the shadows,” the South Bend mayor added.

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“There are so many contributions that ... kids and adults with autism can make, but we’ve got to unlock their potential too,” he added, noting his husband Chasten’s experience teaching theater to autistic students, which he said shows him “just what is possible if you have teachers equipped with the right insight and expertise.”

Autism diagnoses have increased steadily over the decades, which experts have said is more closely related to more sophisticated diagnostic methods than to any external factors that may cause the condition.

"I think this speaks to the improved understanding of autism and autistic people among elected officials. Ten years ago, politicians talking about autism diagnoses usually framed autism as a recent epidemic," Ari Ne’eman, who served as one of former President Obama's appointees to the National Council on Disability and previously served as president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told The Hill.

“Now, we're seeing discussions that recognize that we've always existed and are now being recognized more than before as stigma goes down and diagnostic tools improve,” he added.

"It's refreshing to hear a prominent politician talk about the real reasons behind the recent increase in estimates of autism prevalence, rather than terrifying parents about a non-existent 'autism epidemic," Steve Silberman, author of “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity,” told The Hill.

"The definition of autism has radically changed in the past couple of decades, and become much broader and more inclusive, which means that more autistic people and their families can access services,” Silberman added.

“For most of the 20th Century, autism was mistakenly considered very rare, but now we understand that in fact it's extremely common, and has been historically underestimated particularly among women and people of color. That's what Buttigieg means about autistic people 'coming out of the shadows,' and that's good news."