Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and Harvard Medical School, Boston have just released a report in the journal Pediatrics (October 09) suggesting that 1 in 91 US children have autism, not 1 in 150 as previously thought, and that of those 1 in 58 are boys – an estimated 673,000 children around 1% of all U.S. kids.
The new figures on autism cases stem from a 2007 telephone survey conducted jointly by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and CDC.
More than 78,000 parents of children between the ages of 3 and 17 were asked whether they had ever been told by a health care provider that their child had autism, Asperger's syndrome, or another "autism spectrum disorder" (ASD).
Based on these parent reports, the prevalence of ASD in 2007 was 110 per 10,000 children aged 3 to 17 (or 1 in 91). The new estimates are far higher than previous estimates of 66 autism cases per 10,000 children (or 1 in 150).
However, the information provided by the reports doesn't make it clear whether the increase is an actual increase or the result of changes in the way ASD is described and diagnosed. More inclusive survey questions, increased public awareness, and improved screening and diagnosis of autism are all possible reasons for the higher numbers.
They also report that boys were much more likely than girls to have autism, which has been shown previously, and white children were more likely than black children or multiracial children to have the disorder.
Parents of half the children with autism described the condition as "mild." Another third of parents described their child's condition as moderate, and the remaining parents described it as severe.
Approximately 38% of children seemed to have "lost" their autism - their parents said they had once been told that their child had an autistic disorder but their child did not currently have the condition. It is possible, the researchers say, that autism was initially suspected but subsequently ruled out and never truly diagnosed. The high rate of "lost" cases of autism among very young children (age 3 to 5) supports this line of thinking. It is also possible that some children with "developmental" issues and learning disabilities may have been initially diagnosed with autism to qualify for special education and other services.
For a fuller report
First published October 2009
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