Experts at the Centers for Disease Control now estimate that 1 in 88 American kids is autistic. The study from which doctors gleaned this info also found that boys are still far more likely than girls to receive the diagnosis--5 times more likely, in fact. Currently 1 in 54 American boys is officially recognized as having autism.
These new numbers reflect a 23% increase in autism since the CDC's last autism update. That study was released in 2009.
As grim as the numbers seem there is some good news. Many of these cases, say experts, may not actually be due to more autism--they may simply be cases in which kids who wouldn't have been diagnosed a few years ago are finally falling under the autism umbrella. And there is evidence that more kids are being diagnosed earlier, too. That's important, say care providers, because earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment. And earlier treatment generally means that the kids' outcomes are better, too.
Unfortunately, around 40% of autistic kids still aren't diagnosed until age 4 or older even though symptoms usually pop up well before then.
There were a few interesting facts to come out of the study. We know, for example, that autism is more common in some areas of the US than it is in others. In Utah, for example, the autism rate is about 1 in 47 but in Alabama that number is 1 in 247. And the largest jumps occurred among Hispanic and African-American kids. Experts urge caution, though, and stress that those numbers may not mean that autism is actually increasing in those populations.
Autism is a developmental disability which can greatly impact a child's ability to function normally in the world. The degree of disability can range from mild to severe. Currently there are 3 types of autism officially recognized. Those are:
- Classic autism, in which development is noticeably delayed. People with classic autism typically have trouble communicating with others and may experience significant social challenges. They may also have impaired intellects.
- Asperger syndrome, which is thought of as a "mild" type of autism. People with Asperger syndrome may have social issues to deal with but they typically don't have impaired intellectual functions.
- PDD-NOS, which stands for pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified. This type of autism is marked by impaired communication and social interactions but those problems are milder than those seen in classic autism or Asperger. People who are diagnosed with PDD-NOS are often given the diagnosis simply because they fit some but not all of the regular autism criteria.