CDC Reports Autism Prevalence on the Rise

Article excerpt

By Janice Youngwith

The December 2009 release of a long-awaiting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report citing increased autism prevalence rates came as no surprise to Arlington Heights resident Karen McDonough, executive director of the Autism Society of Illinois.

The report, which confirms the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the United States is one percent of the population, or one in 110 of children 8 years of age in 2006, ignited a firestorm of media attention.

"But for all of us working to enhance the lives of those with autism, the numbers really weren't a surprise," McDonough says. The report simply confirms what she's been seeing for years and the critical importance of early identification and interventions. "It was the first time we've actually heard our government acknowledge the real increase in autism and the tremendous impact it can have on individuals, families and their communities."

The report was conducted by the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network in 11 sites in 2006 and tracks prevalence in children eight years of age.

Among report details is an important finding that while better diagnosis accounts for some of the prevalence, a true increase isn't ruled out. "These findings can't be solely random or attributed to better diagnosis," McDonough says. "Surely there must be an environmental component."

Ongoing delays persist

The report also cites the fact that ongoing delays in identification persist. Children diagnosed in 2006 were being diagnosed on average only five months earlier than in 2002.

Other findings cite significant increases in prevalence among minority populations, with a 91 percent increase among Hispanic children, a 41 percent increase among Black children and a 55 percent increase among white non-Hispanic children.

Prevalence was found to be 4.5 percent higher in males than females -- citing one in 70 boys and one in 315 girls with autism.

McDonough cites the recent explosion in treatment offerings, therapies, services and supports for those with autism and their families. Along with the increase in prevalence, she notes, comes an increase in need for lifelong adult programs, interventions and services.

"While the causes of autism are unclear, the good news is autism is treatable," she says. "Millions of families are desperate for solutions and resources and we're here to provide support, information, networking and referral all along the way. …