The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in every 110 children in the United States is affected by autism . These numbers are a stark contrast to the early 2000’s and 1990’s, when the prevalence rates were exponentially lower, and the disorder itself was not recognized or understood by many in the general population.
This increased prevalence has spawned a new social movement towards answers, awareness and empathy for the ASD community. There are several unanswered questions regarding the cause of this disorder; research has indicated a dual-causal model, with both genetic and environmental components influencing the symptoms.
As we scramble to find answers, many people glance feverishly at the rising prevalence rates and wonder whether America is in a trend of over-diagnosis, or if there is a real epidemic permeating through our society. Much of this can be made clear by looking outside of our borders, and observing diagnosis and incidences. While autism is still misunderstood in some cultures, and individuals who suffer from the disorder are often ostracized, many nations are working hard to battle stereotypes and provide treatment.
It is difficult to have accurate estimates on global prevalence rates. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not maintain specific global statistics on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders or appropriate treatments. In the WHO’s 2007 Global Burden of Disease report on mental and neurological disorders, the organization highlighted the critical situation the world faces with a growing population that includes those with autism .
In 2007, the Autism Society of America provided this estimate:
|China||1,100,000||Peking Health Science Center (estimate based on official 2005 rate of 1.1 in 1000 children affected)|
|India||2,000,000||Action for Autism India (based on an estimated rate of 1 in 250)|
|United States||1,500,000||U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ADDME Study 2007 and Autism Society of America|
|United Kingdom||650,000||National Autistic Society 2006 (based on rate of 1 in 100)|
|Mexico||150,000||Based on estimates by Ministry of Health of 2 to 6 per 1000|
|Philippines||500,000||Autism Society of Philippines|
|Thailand||180,000||Estimate of the Minister of Mental Health|
Chart A: Estimated Number of Individuals with Autism in Selected Nations, 2007 (calculated from prevalence rates in some cases)
Though these numbers are not current and are general approximations, from what we can gather, autism is becoming increasingly prevalent in other countries as well. For this reason, it is imperative that we continue to spread awareness past our own borders, so as a global collective, we can help to influence policy, provide care, and be catalysts for research and change.
Already, organizations like the U.N. are initiating more aggressive approaches towards helping developing countries in autism education and treatment. In 2008, they held the United Nations World Focus on Autism summit.
Ban Soon-taek, Chair of the Forum and wife of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke at the gathering, and stressed the importance of social and cultural outreach for autism:
“Not too long ago, those affected by autism-related disorders were set aside, placed in institutions, or dismissed as untreatable lost cases, today, sadly this reality is still prevalent in some parts of the world. ”
While extending our reach into the far corners of developing nations seems ambitious; it is essential. In many countries, individuals with autism are abused or avoided by members in their community. Often times this is because their disorder is not recognized, or mistaken for something else. Autism is a developmental disorder, and therefore accurate diagnosis and treatment is imperative to the success and wellness of an individual who suffers from ASD. Having trained professionals to identify symptoms in early-childhood development and the resources to provide early intervention is one of our biggest challenges on a global scale today.
Some countries already have treatment centers and government grants for research springing up through bustling cities and quiet suburbs. The Israeli Society for Autistic Children known as ALUT provides educational, residential, vocational and leisure-time services to people with autism. They work to improve the services available to those affected by autism and their families .Also, in Israel, are global affiliate offices of the International Center for Autism Research and Education, ICare4Autism. In July 2010, the global non-profit hosted a worldwide conference in Jerusalem that featured over 30 top autism experts, from around the globe, giving original dissertations and other presentations. There were also symposiums, panels and collaboration between experts.
At the 2010 International Autism Conference, ICare4Autism’s Founder and President, Joshua Weinstein, Ph.D., M.B.A., made it a special point to speak with as many attendees as possible. At the event, Dr. Weinstein said that he felt “fortunate to be able to provide this educational event.”
Further south, Action for Autism, based out of Delhi, India, is providing support and funding research throughout India for autism. South Africa, a nation that has struggled with social/cultural stigmas in relation to autism, is receiving much support from organizations like Autism South Africa. ASA has helped to develop programs, special schools, and hosts symposium for the community that spotlights autism and ASD-related issues.
As the autism epidemic hits us hard at home in the U.S., I can’t help but wonder how developing countries, countries that are poverty stricken, and those that are amidst war and civil unrest must be managing this issue. We must all work to make this a cohesive, aggressive effort for the betterment of future generations.
A list of autism organizations in various countries can be found here: http://www.autism-india.org/worldorgs.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders―Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2006. MMWR Surveillance Summaries 2009;58(SS-10)
- “Incidence Numbers from Other Countries .” Autism Society . N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Sept.2010.<http://www.autismsociety.org/site/PageServer?pagename=community_world_incidence>.
- Abedin, Shahreen. “Autism efforts go global at U.N. forum.” CNN Health 26 Sept. 2008: 1. CNN Health. Web. 3 Sept. 2010. <http://articles.cnn.com/2008-09-26/health/un.focus.autism_1_autism-rates-geraldine-dawson-world-autism-awareness-day?_s=PM:HEALTH>.
- “a few words about us.” ALUT – The Israeli Society for Autistic Childrens. ALUT, n.d. Web. 3 Sept. 2010. <http://alutfriends.org/index-1.html>.