730,000 Have Autism: The Truth About Autism’s Rise

The CDC estimates that 730,000 people in the United States have autism (Photo by: Gabriella Fabbri/Flickr)

Looking back at the late 2009 study that was published in Pediatrics magazine (published online October 5, 2009) it is hard to know that the alarming numbers from 5-months ago haven’t gotten any better.

That particular study states that the prevalence of Autism Spectral Disorders (ASD) is now one in 91 U.S. children – and one in 58 boys. This study was one of the first times that this number (1 in 91) was released and was much higher than the most recently quoted rate of one in 150 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). That is up from one in 1,500 in the early 1990s. Since then, the CDC has changed its web-stat’s on the number of individuals affected by autism to be 1 in 110. The CDC also has posted that it estimates 730,000 cases of autism in the United States.

The CDC also has posted that it estimates 730,000 cases of autism in the United States.

So, it is no wonder that people, especially parents, are worried about this apparent epidemic. So the question goes to ask, who could dispute such harrowing statistics?

Well, last year the staff at the Children’s Hospital of Boston published an article questioning whether our fear is truly well-placed.

“The first thing to remember is that, although we do our best, it can be really difficult for researchers to get good autism numbers,” said Ellen Hanson, PhD, of the Hospital’s Developmental Medicine Center.

“Previous studies looking at this issue have used differing criteria for deciding who has an ASD… In contrast, the study in Pediatrics used parent or guardian reports and got a much higher rate of diagnosis. This isn’t because the parents were inaccurate, but rather that they could report a diagnosis …using any set of rules or criteria.”

She went on to say that as awareness about the disorders increases, people tend to get diagnosed much earlier, adding to the pool of people who have the diagnosis at any given time. At the same time, she did say that there is an actual increase in autism, though what the percentage increase may be is anyone’s guess.

Should we fear the numbers on the prevalence of autism?

“Certainly there is an increase in prevalence,” said Hanson. “Why this is so remains a big mystery. Whether it’s one in 150 or one in 91, ASDs are a huge public health problem, and we need answers quickly.”

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