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Autism: By the Numbers

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When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began tracking the prevalence of autism in American children, comprehensive data from 2000 and 2002 showed 1 in 150 kids were found to have autism. By last year, when the CDC released results from its most recent findings, autism rates had again jumped. Of the 8-year-olds from the study’s broad-based regional survey areas, 1 in 59 had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In real numbers, here’s what that means: CDC tracking suggests that in 2000, roughly 26,700 kids across the U.S. were found to have ASD; the most recent data indicates that number grew to 72,375.

Autism rates, which increased steadily from 2000 to 2010, according to a 2018 report from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, had held steady, at 1 in 68, in the two sets of findings from 2010 to 2012.

Researchers and CDC officials pointed to myriad factors that appear to have a role in the increase in autism rates. One big takeaway from recent findings is the increase in autism prevalence among white children as compared to black children in previous reports.

“Although we continue to see disparities among racial and ethnic groups, the gap is closing,” Li-Ching Lee, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the Bloomberg School and one of the CDC survey’s principal investigators.

Lee and other experts say a primary factor in these increases and in the growing rate of ASD prevalence is that children are getting diagnosed at younger ages, often as early as 2 to 3 years old.

Autism, which appears as early as infancy, is a range of closely related disorders that share some core symptoms. ASD causes delays in basic developmental areas, such as learning to talk, play, and interact with others. Signs and symptoms of autism vary widely, just as some children with ASD suffer only mild impairment, while others may struggle with debilitating physical and cognitive challenges.

According to the CDC, children on the autism spectrum may vary in the severity of their impairment, but all struggle to some degree in three areas: verbal and non-verbal communication; relating to others and engaging in the world; and having flexibility in their thinking and behavior.

Opinions differ among doctors, parents and experts about autism’s causes — and about how to best treat it. But all agree, and research reinforces, that acting early and seeking intensive intervention for children showing early signs of autism is the best path toward the best outcomes. For more info, visit www.CDC.gov/ActEarly

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