A new study, supported by data from Denmark and published in JAMA Pediatrics, is lending more credence to the notion that the apparent rise in autism rates — or most of it — is a misconception.
The research posits that the increase is more likely due a failure to properly identify autistic individuals in decades past, not that more individuals are developing autism.
According to Tara Haelle, a contributor to Forbes, the term “autism” did not actually take on specific meaning until the 1940s, yet still was being linked to schizophrenia into the 1960s, which is a completely unrelated psychiatric disorder. As the definition of autism became more refined, the prevalence adjusted accordingly.
Because the Danish government keeps a complete health record on every Danish resident, researchers can use their national health registry to study the entire population with much less bias from the inclusion or exclusion of subjects. By studying the health records of children born between 1980 and 1991, almost 668,000 children, researchers were able to ascertain that 60% of autism increase could be explained by the change in diagnostic criteria or including outpatient diagnoses in the statistics.
Still, there is the potential for a real increase in children affected, which will vary across countries. According to the Autism Daily Newscast‘s Laurel Joss, a recent CDC report in the US has reported findings much the same as the research on Danish children. The study followed the differences in diagnoses of autism between states and discovered that the increase in diagnoses was connected directly with rising awareness, school screenings, and better access to services. Angela Lello, director of housing and community living at Autism Speaks, says:
“There are lots of long waiting lists. In some states, it can take as long as ten years to gain access to [these support] services.”
In 2014, President Obama signed the Autism CARES act, authorizing $1.3 billion over five years for research and to plug gaps in support necessary for children and adults with autism.
WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida, using information provided by Autism Speaks, reports that the CDC will expand its monitoring to preschoolers. The CDC has been monitoring autism prevalence in US 8-year-olds, since this is the age by which most affected children are identified. Over the next four years, the CDC plans to produce the first clear estimate of diagnosis and services among 4-year-olds in the US.
Although there can be a reliable diagnosis of autism by age 2, the average age of diagnosis is stalled at 4.5 years. In some minority communities, diagnosis is often at a higher age. The new funding will be used to establish two new sites, and improve tracking at eight sites in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. Ten sites will track the school-age children who receive autism services and six sites will track autism among preschoolers.
KDKA-TV, Pittsburgh, shares a potential breakthrough regarding autism from Dr. Maria Simbra . It may be possible to detect whether or not a child has autism before he or she is born. The diagnosis is based on signs and symptoms as a child grows and develops in utero.
“Right now, we consider an early diagnosis made anywhere between 18 months and 3 years of age. Making a diagnosis before 18 months of age is really, really difficult. I don’t think anyone is making the diagnosis of autism before 18 months of age. However, you can find red flags before 18 months,” CHP Developmental Pediatrician Dr. Diego Chaves-Gnecco said.
Scottish researchers have discovered that as early as 20 weeks gestation, head and abdomen sizes are larger in fetuses that were diagnosed with autism some time after birth. The general idea is that someday there may be prenatal measures that could be taken to guide testing, which would result in earlier diagnosis and intervention.