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Breaking News: CDC Estimates U.S. Autism Rate Up To 1 in 88 Kids

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Updated at 1:47 PM, March 29th, 2012

The CDC estimates the autism prevalence rate among boys is 1 in 54. (Camp ASCCA/Flickr)
The CDC estimates the autism prevalence rate among boys is 1 in 54. (Camp ASCCA/Flickr)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just announced that the prevalence rate for autism is up to 1 in 88 children in the U.S. That's a 23 percent increase from the previous 1 in 110 rate reported three years ago by the CDC.

Debate continues to rage about what is driving the apparent increase; is it genetics, the environment, some combination or other factors? The CDC's new report doesn't address any of those tough questions, but suggests better screening and detection is at least in part behind the new numbers. (The NIH's "working assumption" is there are more children effected and more detected.)

Here's the agency's press release:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children in the United States has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study released today that looked at 2008 data from 14 communities. Autism spectrum disorders are almost five times more common among boys than girls – with 1 in 54 boys identified.

The number of children identified with ASDs ranged from 1 in 210 children in Alabama to 1 in 47 children in Utah. The largest increases were among Hispanic and black children.

The report, Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008, provides autism prevalence estimates from 14 areas. It was published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“This information paints a picture of the magnitude of the condition across our country and helps us understand how communities identify children with autism,” said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

“That is why HHS and our entire administration has been working hard to improve the lives of people living with autism spectrum disorders and their families by improving research, support, and services.”

“One thing the data tells us with certainty – there are many children and families who need help,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children.”

The results of CDC’s study highlight the importance of the Obama administration’s efforts to address the needs of people with ASDs, including the work of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IACC’s charge is to facilitate ASD research, screening, intervention, and education. As part of this effort, the National Institutes of Health has invested in research to identify possible risk factors and effective therapies for people with ASDs.

Study results from the 2008 surveillance year show 11.3 per 1,000 8-year-old children have been identified as having an ASD. This marks a 23 percent increase since the last report in 2009. Some of this increase is due to the way children are identified, diagnosed and served in their communities, although exactly how much is due to these factors is unknown. “To understand more, we need to keep accelerating our research into risk factors and causes of autism spectrum disorders,” said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S.Hyg., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The study also shows more children are being diagnosed by age 3, an increase from 12 percent for children born in 1994 to 18 percent for children born in 2000. “Unfortunately, 40 percent of the children in this study aren’t getting a diagnosis until after age 4. We are working hard to change that,” said Boyle.

The most important thing for parents to do is to act quickly whenever there is a concern about a child’s development.

  • Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns.
  • Call your local early intervention program or school system for an assessment.
  • Remember you do not need a diagnosis to access services for your child.

Here's more information about the study and here are some tools for tracking children's development. For more about the CDC's research and the government's overall response, look here and here.

The president of the advocacy group Autism Speaks told CommonHealth contributor Karen Weintraub that the new numbers constitute a "national emergency," and called for a more coordinated national response. Read Karen's full story on the report for USA Today.

This program aired on March 29, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Twitter Health Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for Bostonomix.


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