The number of children being diagnosed with autism has increased incredibly, according to a new report released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new report, based on an analysis of tens of thousands of health and school records in 14 states, shows that as many as 1 in 88 children in the U.S. are identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although the data is from just 14 states, thus cannot be used to generalize the U.S., this is still a huge increase. The data, compiled from 2008 reports shows an autism increase of 23% when compared to 2006 data and an unbelievable increase of 78% when compared to 2002 data. The autism increase rates varied by state as well. For example, ASDs cases averaged 1 in 210 children in Alabama but 1 in 47 children in Utah. The new study also shows that more children are being diagnosed by age 3, which is good news because early diagnoses means early intervention, however 40% of children in the study weren’t diagnosed until after the age of four. The largest increase of autism cases was seen among Hispanic and black children.

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CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. notes, “We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children.” The CDC clarifies that while the new data shows that cases of autism continue to increase, they can’t be sure if these increases reflect growth in public awareness and access to services or if the increases are due to some other issue. As the increases aren’t yet well understood, the CDC is pushing the need for more resources to identify potential risk factors and to evaluate the multiple factors that may be contributing to increases in estimated ASD prevalence over time. Everything from closely spaced pregnancies to pollution to vaccines to toxic chemicals have been associated with autism. That said, some of these theories have been debunked. Since the cause of autism is yet unknown, the CDC says the best thing you can do as a parent of a young child is to act quickly when you have a concern about your child’s development and discuss those concerns with your child’s doctor or call your local early intervention program or school system for an assessment.

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