If that number shocks you, it should. The Centers for Disease Control’s latest statistic that 1 in 88 kids in the US has autism is twice the number of autistic kids that was reported just five years ago.
A positive point about the finding is that it doesn’t necessarily mean more kids are becoming autistic. The definition of autism has changed over the years causing more children to be identified, and the CDC’s report also found that previously about 40 percent of children weren’t being diagnosed until after the age of 4. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends autism screening for all children at 18 months and 2 years.
This finding is based on 2008 data from 14 states and suggests that the rate of autism in the US has increased 23 percent since 2006. Incidence is the highest in boys and white children, but the biggest rate increase was seen among Hispanics, from 1 in 270 in 2002 to about 1 in 125 in 2008.
CDC officials say more research into the causes of autism will help them determine whether there has been a true increase in the disorder or simply better diagnosis. They are also considering a revision to the 1994 manual for diagnosing mental illness that would streamline the criteria for autism, but some critics say the new definition would be too narrow and exclude some children with educational and behavioral issues.
Genetics is also believed to play a role in the potential increase of the disorder. Although studies have found no connection between childhood vaccines and autism, researchers are looking into other factors such as the mothers’ illnesses or medication during pregnancy. First results from the CDC study are expected next year.