What’s Behind the Startling Increase in Autism Cases?

According to a new US government survey reported by “The Today Show,” there has been a dramatic increase in the number of kids diagnosed with autism in the USA. New estimates say that 1 in 45 kids has autism, a sharp increase from the previous estimate of 1 in 68 kids. That means that more than two percent of kids in America have received an autism diagnosis.

In Australia, the Autism Victoria Professional Advisory Panel says that while there is no reliable Australian data on the prevalence of Autistic Disorder and combined ASDs (Austism Spectrum Disorders), reports indicate that prevalence can be estimated at around 1:160 children.

In the USA, the reason for the recent significant increase is that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed one key question on its survey, specifically asking parents if a doctor or health care professional had ever told them that their child had Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Development Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“1 in 45 is what we think is the most accurate parental report of autism to date,” said Dr Benjamin Zablotsky, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics. Dr Zablotsky helped lead the study that surveyed 35,000 US households with children aged 3 to 17.

NBC News medical contributor, Dr Natalie Azar, added that new survey methodology is one reason for the rise in autism diagnoses. When the number was 1 in 68, it was because they were getting their numbers from medical records and physician’s offices. “It is a patient report, but it’s also coming from the guidance of what their physician may have asked them.” She adds that the number probably reflects an increase in autism spectrum disorder, but that largely the shift is in the way in which they are capturing their information.

Autism has been on the rise in America for the last 15 years. According to data from the CDC, the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder was only 1 in 150 in 2000. Compared to the 1 in 45 America faces now, it does seem drastic. “It’s a high number and it’s a scary number,” said Michael Rosanoff, director of public health for the advocacy group Autism Speaks. He suggests that this strongly suggests under-reporting of autism in the US, which is becoming an increasingly prevalent topic among families and advocacy groups. The significantly lower estimate of numbers reported here in Australia suggest that under-reporting may be an even bigger issue in our country.

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Photo: Getty