U.S. autism estimate rises to 1 in 68 children

Much of the increase is believed to be from a cultural and medical shift
Associated Press
Mar 27, 2014


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.



Nahhh, it can't be the chemicals in our food and the environment, just ask the people in Clyde . . . .




I'm leaning toward fetal brain development abnormality. The older the mother the more BPA held in her body. Consuming processed food also seems to increase the BPA load.

From the Grave

Maybe it's aspartame. Everyone knows to not smoke or drink alcohol. But how many pregnant women drink diet soda?

Dwight K.

Let's see who blames Obama first...


The last I knew...there were at LEAST 3,000 various chemicals added to our food that (get this!) the FDA has NOT approved. That's not counting the ones they have approved. You know...chemicals like red dye #5, etc., etc. which are later retracted as "unsafe". (really...we shouldn't be consuming these?) Then there are the chemicals that the farmers spread on their fields (the ones that are causing problems in our great lakes and potable water supply). I also add all the prescription drugs that we consume not knowing what the various combinations of them are doing once they are ingested and/or...flushed down the drain to again add to the toxic soup we call "potable" water. Now we can mix in the chemicals fed to our livestock (hormones, antibiotics and who knows what else) and manufacturing processes.
Next...they cause us illness. So we head out to the doctor's office for repair caused by all this toxic consumption. They in turn charge us and...the insurance companies a considerable amount of money who in turn charge us higher and higher premiums.
In a nut shell...they poison us and then charge us for the privilege. But don't despair...everybody makes money from the chemical companies to the farmers to the doctors and hospitals to the insurance companies to stockholders to lobbyists to your friendly local mortician. Pretty cool eh?
Have a great day!

Peninsula Pundit

As the article notes the goal posts have been widened as to what constitutes a diagnosis of autism.
Culturally, women are having kids later in life.
It has been long known that before age 30, the chance of a woman having an autistic child is 1 in 8000.
After 30?
1 in 800.
That would go a long way to explain it.

JMOP's picture

My thoughts exactly Peninsula Pundit.

Way back in my day I remember kids being "different". I'm not sure what label the doctors slapped on them, besides being slow. With autism spectrum it could be considered that plain ole "weird" kids would fit in that mold too.

So this begs the question, who makes the profit of diagnosing children with autism?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

I do agree with Pundit as well.

To answer your question I submit it is a similar group to people who benefit from the ever-widening goal posts of "global climate change" or "global war on drugs/terror"? It's quite expedient to get government funds, public attention, and private investment if you include those words in whatever it is you are doing.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy a livable world just as I enjoy those who come to my store with Asperger's or who are "weird" in other ways. But something so apparently vast and unknown is an excellent black hole into which unlimited funds can be requested for the betterment of everyone. Is is legitimate? I'm not countering that, but it is also an endless money sink around which a great many people can saddle up and run a public or private enterprise to constantly siphon money.

If you read the last line of the article, it leaves us in the direction this is going. Instead of further defining autism, I'd be interested to know how doctor's are defining "normal".

Dr. Information

PP hit the nail on the head.