The Latest Autism Stats

ss_FAN2012940Today the CDC released an eye-opening study you’ll be hearing a lot about: It says that approximately 1 percent of children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is the result of data examining the number of 8-year-olds diagnosed with the disorder in 2002 and comparing it to the number in 2006. It represents an increase of 57 percent over those four years—and a leap of nearly 600 percent from two decades ago.

We asked Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer of Autism Speaks, for her thoughts on the findings: “It’s a really important study because it validates the staggering increase in prevalence we’ve seen over the last four years.” Staggering, indeed: Whereas 20 years ago, it was believed that nearly 1 in 5,000 children had an ASD, the number today is more like 1 in 110. Breaking it down along gender lines, 1 in 70 boys are estimated to have an ASD; for girls, it’s 1 in 315. Why so many more boys than girls are affected is just one of the questions this study raises.

The biggest question, of course, is what’s behind the rise? For now, no one can say for sure. As Dr. Dawson put it, “We still have a very poor understanding of the causes of autism.” Yes, we have a better understanding of autism disorders now than we ever have, and therefore more children are diagnosed, and at younger ages. But that doesn’t fully account for the increase. Experts including Dr. Dawson say that environmental factors must be studied further, to understand how they interact with genetic susceptibilities. “This information is a call to action for the federal government to fund a large-scale study,” says Dr. Dawson.

Autism Speaks has an advocacy arm called Autism Votes, which tracks autism-related legislative efforts all across the country. It’s a good site to visit if you’re looking for a way to voice your support for more funding, more services, and more research. Want to talk to other moms of kids on the autism spectrum about this news? Join our group in the Community.

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