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New CDC Study: Autism Affects 1 in 68 Children

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that 1 in 68 children are now affected with autism. That statistic has gone up dramatically from 1 in 88 in just two years. Researchers are still unclear about the cause.

The CDC evaluated 8-year-old children in 11 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. The results showed a low of 1 in 175 children in Alabama to a high of 1 in 45 in New Jersey. Boys are 4.5 times more likely to be affected—at 1 in 42 as opposed to girls at 1 in 189.

Other facts from the study include:

  • Forty-six percent of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an IQ of 85 or higher. That's average to above-average.
  • Most children with ASD aren't diagnosed until after 4 years old. Most could be diagnosed as early as age 2.
  • Black and Hispanic children with ASD are more likely than white ASD-affected children to have an intellectual disability (The CDC attributes this to how the children are identified, diagnosed and served within their communities).
  • As many as 1.2 million children under 21 are affected by some form of autism.

During a press briefing of the CDC's report, Marshalyn Yergin-Allsopp, chief of the CDC's Developmental Disabilities Branch, said, "I think in the past we thought only of children being severely affected, meaning children with intellectual disability, children who were nonverbal, children with a host of co-occurring conditions—that was the picture of autism, I think, about 10 years ago. Our understanding has evolved to the point that we understand there are children with higher IQs, and our numbers may be reflective of some of that."

This new information is important on many levels, probably most in the case of future needs. Programs are already packed to capacity in the United States, and for low-income parents, getting help is even more difficult. Laws are in place in at least 37 states that require health insurance to cover autism, but there are often long waiting lists.

"We don't have enough trained professionals to do this. It's hard to get paid to do this," says Dr. Gary Goldstein, president and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.

The CDC and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both recommend intervention for ASD at the earliest possible time, which could be delayed greatly by the waiting lists and lack of services. AAP suggests children start getting screened for developmental problems at 9, 18 and 24/30 months, and if parents see any indications of ASD, they should have their children screened sooner.

Parents need to remember they're the most important factor in getting their children diagnosed. In a coordinated federal effort, several government groups have started a new campaign called "Birth to 5 Watch Me Thrive" to help parents and educators with developmental and behavioral screening. You can find information at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Dr. Coleen Boyle, director of CDC's National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental Disorders, says, "Our message to parents is, if you have a concern about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves, take action; don't wait. CDC has checklists and other resources to help parents track their child's developmental milestones. These materials are free, and you can find them at CDC.gov/milestones."

Missing from the report is why the numbers have increased. Extensive research says that vaccines have nothing to do with autism, but not everyone agrees. The CDC lists potential risk factors:

  • Children who have a parent or sibling with autism
  • Children who are born more than 26 weeks premature
  • Children who have genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis
  • Children who are born to older parents
  • Children who were exposed to prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide in the womb

For more autism resources, visit Autism Speaks and Autism Support Network.

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