Two years ago the rate of autism spectrum disorder for children was 1 in 88. Now, the number has risen to 1 in 68, which is a 30% increase. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released this information on Thursday of last week.
This newest estimate is based on the CDC’s evaluation of health and educational records of all 8-year-old children in 11 states: Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona, Maryland, North Carolina, Utah and New Jersey.
The incidence of autism ranged from a low of 1 in 175 children in Alabama to a high of 1 in 45 in New Jersey, according to the CDC.
Male children continue to have a 4.5 percentage higher rate of autism diagnoses than females. The CDC’s national study took into account age, time of initial diagnosis, whether these children have other developmental disabilities, and whether or not there are concurrent intellectual disabilities. Unfortunately, children continue to be diagnosed late. Signs of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be identified at two years of age, but are very often not identified until the age of four.
Twenty years ago the medical community believed that ASD was an intellectual disability. Now, it has been proven that high-functioning children can have ASD, as well. Caucasian children continue to have a higher percentage of ASD than do African-American or Hispanic children, but the percentage of cases seen in African-American, Hispanic, and female children is increasing.
Not only has ASD increased since a generation ago, but experts now agree that ASD is a lifetime condition.
What’s still unknown is the driver of that increase. Many experts believe the rise is largely due to better awareness and diagnosis rather than a true increase in the number of children with the condition.
“We don’t know the extent those factors explain in terms of the increase, but we clearly know they do play a role,” said Coleen Boyle, director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC. “Our system tells us what’s going on. It (only) gives us clues as to the why.”
The aging of parents is also known to be a factor; the chances of autism increase with the age of parents at conception.
The conundrum becomes even more complicated when trying to evaluate the reasons why there are variances in the race, sex, and IQ of children who have a higher risk for ASD. Some doctors and researchers think incongruency may be related to lack of access to medical assistance by some impoverished groups. Others say it could be that there are children who are less vulnerable to ASD.
The range in statewide diagnoses of children with ASD could reflect the inability to access healthcare and other factors. Some feel the increase could be because of the raised focus on ASD by teachers, parents and doctors.