Today is World Autism Day, and there has been a lot of news floating around the internet about autism since the CDC released its latest report about autism rates being on the rise in the U.S. Most people have already heard the stats by now, but if you haven’t here they are:

  • 1 in 88 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, compared to the previous value of 1 in 110
  • Autism is five times more common in boys than in girls, with 1 in 54 boys having autism
  • from the 14 communities where data was collected, CDC found a wide range in children in autism between places from 1 in 210 children in Alabama to 1 in 47 children in Utah

Does This Mean Autism Is More Common In Children Today?

Many experts–and the CDC included–emphasize that rising autism rates in children doesn’t mean that there are more autistic children today than ever before. For example, autism expert Catherine Lord at the N.Y. Presbyterian Hospital says that the higher numbers may be because of better autism detection rather than a real increase in autistic children. She asks whether the 14 sites being studied may have been included in the CDC’s study because of their commitment to autism services, which in turn drew families touched by autism to move nearby.

However, at the same time Lord also says that because most of the children had autistic diagnoses from community physicians rather than CDC researchers, there might be actually a higher rate of autism.

Impacts of Higher Rates of Autism on Society

The CDC will be performing further studies to try to verify their numbers, but if the autism rate truly is increasing, what does this mean for society?

First, it means we need to figure out what the causes of autism are.

Secondly, it means we have to find a way to pay for better autism interventions so autistic children can grow up and live health adult lives. It also means we have to determine what are good autism treatments, as studies on the effectiveness of various interventions are still quite rare.

Autism Therapies Vary in Effectiveness But Show Promise

Related to my last point is other news recently released about a study that shows autism therapy can bring significant gains but also vary widely in effectiveness. The study tracked 7,000 children undergoing autism therapy and found there was a small group of “bloomers” who began with many communication and social problems but made rapid gains in therapy during their elementary school years. The researchers also found that most kids improved over time in social and communication scores but that some kids improved much faster than others. For example, kids with other intellectual disabilities besides autism didn’t have large improvements.



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