Is It an Epidemic?
The enormous impact that early intervention can potentially make is partly why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with several partner organizations, is waging an ambitious new campaign to raise public awareness of ASD and related developmental disorders.
Another reason for the CDC's multimillion dollar effort: Autism has, quite simply, become too large an issue for anyone to ignore. In recent years, the disorder has made headlines as the rate of diagnosis has increased by about tenfold in this country. Recent research suggests that at least 1 in 250 kids in the United States may now be affected by ASD, according to the Bethesda, Maryland-based Autism Society of America (ASA). (For information about ASD and other resources, log on to autism-society.org.)
Exactly why there has been such a dramatic increase in autism cases has been hotly debated for years. Some believe that, in good part, doctors are gradually getting better at identifying the disorder. In addition, more people are now being classified as having autism due to the disorder's current broader definition.
"These factors may partly explain the rise, but they don't account for everything that is happening," says ASA former president and CEO Rob Beck, noting cases of "classic autism" itself have been on the rise. In California, for example, the number of children with classic autism -- which is often accompanied by mental retardation and/or epilepsy -- has tripled since 1987. "No one yet has a firm explanation for what is happening, but our moral obligation is to help children with autism now," Beck says.