Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are developmental disabilities that include difficulties in social interaction and communication as well as restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped behavior patterns. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has released information this week, estimating that as many as 1 in 88 children, or more than 1%, may have some kind of ASD.

Researchers took 2008 data from some 14 different communities, finding that ASD was five times more common in boys at 1 in 54. Girls had lower numbers at 4 per 1000, or 1 in 252, as did children in Alabama coming in at 1 in 210. Utah had the highest figures at one in 47, and there were also alarming increases in black and Hispanic communities.

The CDC established an autism research and monitoring program in 2000, to collect data on the issue, which has been a hot button topic of late due to controversy surrounding alleged side effects from vaccines and thimerosal, a mercury based preservative used in vaccines. The CDC report entitled : Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008, gives autism estimates from 14 areas around the US. It was published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said :

“This information paints a picture of the magnitude of the condition across our country and helps us understand how communities identify children with autism … That is why HHS and our entire administration has been working hard to improve the lives of people living with autism spectrum disorders and their families by improving research, support, and services.”

While CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. weighed in on the matter stating that :

“One thing the data tells us with certainty – there are many children and families who need help … We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children.”

The Obama administration has committed to making efforts to address the needs of children and parents of children with ASDs. Their focus includes the work of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IACC’s charge is to facilitate ASD research, screening, intervention, and education. As part of this effort, the National Institutes of Health has invested in research to identify possible risk factors and effective therapies for people with ASDs.

The CDC results show a shocking 11.3 per 1,000 eight-year-old children have been identified as having an ASD. The last information was released in 2009, and the new figures give a nearly 25% increase prevalence, and while a part may well be down to more accurate diagnosis and a great awareness of ASD, the deeper aspects of the issue are still not fully understood.

In addition, the research shows more children are being diagnosed by age 3, an increase from 12 percent for children born in 1994 to 18 percent for children born in 2000. As Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., M.S.Hyg., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities says :

“To understand more, we need to keep accelerating our research into risk factors and causes of autism spectrum disorders… Unfortunately, 40 percent of the children in this study aren’t getting a diagnosis until after age 4. We are working hard to change that.”

The CDC report concludes by stating that ASDs are of serious public concern and the increase in prevalence only makes investigating the issue more important. They also give advice to parents worried about ASD, or the development of their child to:

  • Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns.
  • Call your local early intervention program or school system for an assessment.
  • Remember you do not need a diagnosis to access services for your child.

A website is also provided for those seeking more information on the matter

Written by Rupert Shepherd