CDC: 1 In 88 U.S. Children Lives With Autism
The cause of autism is still unknown, but a new estimate by the Centers for Disease Control shows a staggering surge in diagnosed cases among children in the United States. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control says about one in 88 children across the nation is living with autism. Since 2002, that is a whopping 78 percent increase, based on a study of the latest available figures, from 2008.
"The data show that doctors are getting better at diagnosing autism and also that communities are getting better at providing services to the children and families who need them," says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC.
Autism consists of a broad range of disorders. Children with autism can have a hard time socializing and communicating and often exhibit repetitive behaviors.
The report shows more children are being diagnosed earlier, by around the age of four, but health officials and advocates say that is not good enough.
Leading advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, which partnered with the CDC on the study, want a national strategy in place to make sure children are diagnosed far sooner, by 18 months.
"We are dealing with a national emergency that is need of a national plan. At one in 88, we now have over one million children directly affected by autism," says President Mark Roithmayr of Autism Speaks.
Like with most disorders, advocates and doctors agree the sooner there is a diagnosis, the sooner interventions can start. The American Psychiatric Association is currently weighing new guidelines that will redefine how autism is diagnosed because it includes a spectrum of disorders.
Health experts say that should not have any impact on the current government estimates and in fact might help improve services for children and families.
"It takes individuals with these difficulties and it puts them all on a range instead of dividing them into groups. However in the end, what matters is more that we design services for them, not so much that we call it Asperger's or autism spectrum," says Dr. Andrew Gerber, the director of the Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center.
Calls for increased federal funding are in place to do that.
The CDC also has ongoing studies underway to determine whether environmental factors, and not just better diagnosis, is behind the big increase in the number of children believed to be autistic.