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US autism estimate rises to 1 in 68 children

Autism Early Detection
NEW YORK (AP) - The government's estimate of autism has moved up again to 1 in 68 U.S. children, a 30 percent increase in two years.

But health officials say the new number may not mean autism is more common. Much of the increase is believed to be from a cultural and medical shift, with doctors diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.

"We can't dismiss the numbers. But we can't interpret it to mean more people are getting the disorder," said Marisela Huerta, a psychologist at the New York-Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain in suburban White Plains, N.Y.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest estimate Thursday. The Atlanta-based agency said its calculation means autism affects roughly 1.2 million Americans under 21. Two years ago, the CDC put the estimate at 1 in 88 children, or about 1 million.

The cause or causes of autism are still not known. Without any blood test or other medical tests for autism, diagnosis is not an exact science. It's identified by making judgments about a child's behavior.

Thursday's report is considered the most comprehensive on the frequency of autism. Researchers gathered data in 2010 from areas in 11 states - Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

The report focused on 8-year-olds because most autism is diagnosed by that age. The researchers checked health and school records to see which children met the criteria for autism, even if they hadn't been formally diagnosed. Then, the researchers calculated how common autism was in each place and overall.

The CDC started using this method in 2007 when it came up with an estimate of 1 in 150 children. Two years later, it went to 1 in 110. In 2012, it went to 1 in 88.

Last year, the CDC released results of a less reliable calculation - from a survey of parents - which suggested as many as 1 in 50 children have autism.

Experts aren't surprised by the growing numbers, and some say all it reflects is that doctors, teachers and parents are increasingly likely to say a child with learning and behavior problems is autistic. Some CDC experts say screening and diagnosis are clearly major drivers, but that they can't rule out some actual increase as well.

"We cannot say what portion is from better diagnosis and improved understanding versus if there's a real change," said Coleen Boyle, the CDC official overseeing research into children's developmental disabilities.

For decades, autism meant kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. But the definition has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions.

One sign of that: In the latest study, almost half of autistic kids had average or above average IQs. That's up from a third a decade ago and can be taken as an indication that the autism label is more commonly given to higher-functioning children, CDC officials acknowledged.

Aside from that, much in the latest CDC report echoes earlier findings. Autism and related disorders continue to be diagnosed far more often in boys than girls, and in whites than blacks or Hispanics. The racial and ethnic differences probably reflects white communities' greater focus on looking for autism and white parents' access to doctors, because there's no biological reason to believe whites get autism more than other people, CDC officials said at a press briefing Thursday.

One change CDC officials had hoped to see, but didn't, was a drop in the age of diagnosis. Experts say a diagnosis can now be made at age 2 or even earlier. But the new report said the majority of children continue to be diagnosed after they turn 4.

"We know the earlier a child is identified and connected with services, the better," Boyle said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement Thursday, saying the nation needs to step up screening for the condition and research into autism's causes.

"It's critical that we as a society do not become numb to these numbers," said Dr. Susan Hyman, head of the group's autism subcommittee.

Join the discussion

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gallanttld March 28 2014 at 9:07 AM

I am a mother who has a daughter now 23 yrs old on ssi for disabilities. I knew something was off when she was a toddler . speech, socially, odd obsessions. I could go on .the older she got the more noticable things became...teachers picked on her and her father mentally abused all three children other than myself . been devorced for 9 yrs. of which her father had alot of simalarities between them only different levels. plus she was bullied from other children as well. even the pediatrician blew it off as every child grows in thier own way. until before college she had to be re-evaluated for school and i asked if they check for autism and thats when i found out.. my daughter is bugging me i have to go mom

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cgssnavickas March 28 2014 at 9:36 AM

I'm not doubting that there are people that are "labeled" as autistic but it is one of the most over-used diagnosis, especially in the last few years. True, more things are known about it now than say, ten years ago, but on the other hand it's also been used if the doctors can't figure out what is wrong with the child.

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1 reply
Liza cgssnavickas March 28 2014 at 1:06 PM

agree that I think the term "autism spectrum" is spread over too many now and accounts for many who do not have that Dx.

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Amber Flamber March 28 2014 at 10:29 AM

I don't necessarily believe that autism is entirely caused by vaccines, despite being against vaccines I never REALLY bought into that, but it's kind of hard to deny the fact that kids are pumped with 2-3 times the amount of vaccines we were and now autism is at an unbelievable high.

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1 reply
Liza Amber Flamber March 28 2014 at 1:05 PM

you never "bought into" vaccines? Just announced yesterday was that India has now been entirely free of polio after massive innoculations for 2 years. Vaccines save people.
We are seeing measles, whooping cough and childhood diseases that were nearly gone when I was a kid. And it's due to people who think vaccines cause autism. So other children are then put at risk.
Read a little, and see article from yesterday that in 11 out of 11 cases it was found that changes causing autism were seen IN UTERO in babies in Europe long before birth. In their BRAINS. Their brain scans when born show large anomalies and overloaded areas. There is something environmental, a thing mothers ingest, and other possibles that are being looked for since babies are not vaccinated in utero. Vaccine causing autism has been debunked for a long time. Jenny McCarthy and her group caused a lot of misery for a lot of people, those that followed not vaccinating. We have age old diseases back now to fight with since some parents are not doing what will help their babies.

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1 reply
marigold951 Liza March 28 2014 at 7:49 PM

Marigold951 Are you a doctor? I believe that vaccines should be given at a certain weight like other medications not a certain age. I also believe in diet related factors and environmental factors as well. It takes the AMA forever to change their thinking about anything. I think it's vastly over-diagnosed if a person has only one trait associated with autism. With all that said if I had that issue in my life I would read Jenny McCarthy's book along with others to find out all I could and not just go with one train of thought. You have to be open minded today.

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deesper March 28 2014 at 3:54 PM

My daughter was diagnosed at 2and 1/2 with autism. I immediately started her in Easter Seals where they provided therapy for motor, visual, and speech. The sooner you realized there is a problem and acknowlege it and accept it, the sooner you can begin to deal with it. My daughter is an amazing person, she doesn't say much but she is a loving and beautiful person. I am so fortunate to have her in my life. She has taught me what is important in life and to appreciate what we have and not what we don't have.

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Pumpkinpie March 28 2014 at 6:29 AM

MOSTLY occurs in kids of parents who watch FOX Toxic TV

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3 replies
pgasus March 29 2014 at 12:26 AM

Has anybody checked to see if the ammish have this problem. Iam thinking food additives and pessisides here.

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YourFtr March 28 2014 at 11:41 PM

Off topic; but I can't post everywhere....
Obamacaire has signed up 6 million......
That means that there are only 24 million illegals to go....
then they can start enrolling US citizens !!?

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chokel March 28 2014 at 11:56 AM

Related to Celiac, gluten sensitivity, the protein is being maniupulted and causing ill health in a great many people, and children.

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mpiastra March 28 2014 at 6:33 AM

what about older teens/young adults???

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drryscavage March 29 2014 at 9:13 PM

Any situation where you see normal behavior suddenly disappear is no mystery. 90% of the cases occur because of use of drugs or alcohol. This is usually argued against by people who feel it is a threat against their life. When you talk about Autism IF the numbers are truly increased you must go to the books and find the onset of the increase of the disease with what other change occurred at the same time. The answer is easy. It is the use of anti-depressants during pregnancy. I have been telling this to patients for 10+ years. The opposition to this fact is always put forth by those using anti-depressants...fear a threat against their life.

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