Autism diagnosis climbed again, this time jumping 30 percent over two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control reported Thursday. Two years ago the CDC found that one in 88 children had been diagnosed. Today, it reports one in 68. Experts were quick to point out this is likely not higher incidence, but rather, more aggressive diagnosis.
Highlights from the CDC report included wide variation between communities, from one in 175 in Alabama to 1 in 45 children in parts of New Jersey. Nearly half had average or above average intellectual ability, and boys were five times more likely to be diagnosed. White children were significantly more likely to be diagnosed than blacks or Hispanics.
No one is sure what causes autism. "Genetics are a large factor," NBC reported. "Autism runs strongly in families, but genes don’t explain it all. Better diagnosis doesn’t explain all of it, either, and many scientists are looking at what happens in pregnancy. Some studies suggest that infections such as influenza during pregnancy may play a role."
Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a child neurologist at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, told NBC that he was skeptical that the new numbers reflect a growing problem. “I'm not convinced that the true numbers of autism are rising, rising, rising every time we survey them,” Wiznitzer told NBC News.
Whatever the true incidence, there is broad agreement that early intervention is critical. "The earlier a child is diagnosed with autism, the better their chances of overcoming the difficulties that come with the disorder," CNN noted in its report. "It's not a cure, but it changes the trajectory," Dr. Gary Goldstein, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University told CNN.
"Children with the most extreme form of autism are withdrawn, speak little, avoid eye contact and engage in repetitive actions," the Washington Post reported. "Milder forms, such as Asperger’s syndrome, are now considered to fall along the autism spectrum. In the past, children with Asperger’s, for example, might have been considered peculiar and abnormal but not suffering from a disorder."
"The CDC said it would be announcing a new initiative later Thursday to encourage parents to have young children screened for autism in their early years, and given the support they need," the Washington Post report added. "Officials said most children are not diagnosed until they are at least four years old, though identification is possible as early as two years old."
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