Autism Cases Grow to 1 in 88 Kids

New estimates show a 23 percent increase in autism diagnoses since 2002 .

THE GIST

Autism diagnoses have risen to 1 in 88 children in the United States.

The increase may be due to better detection of autism.

One in 88 children in the United States has autism, according to the most recent estimates released today in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The new estimates, based on data from 2008, show a 23 percent increase in autism diagnoses since the last report. In 2002, 1 in 150 kids were estimated to have autism and in 2006 the prevalence increased to 1 in 110.

The largest increases were seen among Hispanic and black children, the report says.

Autism is much more common in boys, with nearly five times as many boys diagnosed as girls.

It's possible the rise is entirely due to better detection of autism, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said at a press conference about the study. We know that doctors and communities are getting better at identifying children with autism. But whether this explains all of the rise is not known, Frieden said.

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The new estimates indicate a growing need for programs serving children with the condition, the report says.

"One thing the data tells us with certainty — there are many children and families who need help," Frieden said. "We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children," Frieden said.

Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disabilities that can cause language delays, impaired social and communication skills and repetitive behaviors. The group of disorders includes classic autism, as well as less severe forms of the condition, such as Asperger's syndrome.

The new report is based on data collected for 8-year-olds living in 14 areas in the United States.

One out of every 54 boys were identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, compared with 1 in 252 girls.

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders varied widely depending on location, from 1 in 210 children in Alabama to 1 in 47 children in Utah, the report says.

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The U.S. needs a national plan to increase funds for basic research to understand causes of autism, Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, said at the press conference.

While more children are being diagnosed by age 3, 40 percent of children in the study were not diagnosed until after age 4. "We are working hard to change that," said Coleen Boyle, director of CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Research shows the earlier children are diagnosed with autism and receive autism treatments, the more they benefit, Bolye said. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening all children for autism at ages 18 and 24 months, said Dr. Susan Hyman, chairperson of the Autism Subcommittee of the AAP.

The important message for parents is: "it's critical to act quickly if there's a concern about their child's development," Boyle said. "Don't wait," she said.

Parents with speak with their doctor about their concerns, the CDC says. They can also call a local school system or early intervention program for assessment.

The new estimates are published today (March 29) in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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