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Moms Respond As CDC Says Autism In Children Up A Whopping 78%

By Katherine Stone |

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just released a new report on autism in children and the numbers are staggering: in the last decade, autism spectrum diagnoses have increased 78%. They now say that one in every 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Since the CDC’s last report in 2009 alone, the number of children identified with these illnesses — which include autism, Asperger’s, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) – has gone up 23%. The statistics were compiled by looking at the number of eight-year-olds in 14 states who were receiving services for ASD such as therapy and school support.

The CDC researchers believe the increase in autism in children is due to better awareness and identification by parents, communities and healthcare providers, and several experts have chimed in to say that, as scary as the numbers sound, the increase could actually be a good sign. It means that more kids who need them are being connected to services and treatment.

Strollerderby writer and Salon contributor Joslyn Gray, who has two children with Asperger’s, agrees. “I feel that the increase is due to better awareness and better, more widely-available tools for evaluation, such as regular quick screenings by pediatricians,” said Gray. “I don’t believe there are actually more autistic people than there used to be, only that we are now better at identifying children and adults on the spectrum, and appreciating the neurodiversity that exists in our society.”

We asked Shannon Des Roches Rosa, who follows autism science and diagnosis trends closely as editor of the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism and is one of Babble’s Top 25 Autism Spectrum Bloggers, whether she was concerned about the number. She said she wasn’t surprised at all, especially, “… given last year’s news about autism prevalence rates of 1 in 38 in South Korea. If you look at the CDC’s report closely, you’ll see that rates vary widely by region, and that part of the increase is due to missed diagnoses among the Latino and African-American children. Underdiagnosis and misdiagnosis among minority children is something folks like Holly Robinson Peete have been talking about since 2010.”

Ellen Seidman, author of the award-winning blog Love That Max and mother of a special needs child, adds that, “The stats on the rise of autism rates are alarming, to say the least, and raise a whole lot of questions about why. What’s important for parents of newly-diagnosed kids to know is that there are so many resources available now, some of which didn’t exist even five years ago. There’s a growing number of dedicated schools, treatments and services for children with autism, along with a growing awareness of effective therapies such as ABA (applied behavior analysis). There are outstanding handbooks like the Thinking Person’s Guide To Autism, and even entertainment initiatives like sensory-friendly movie screenings. There’s also a whole lot of online support for parents of kids with autism and any special needs.”

The CDC report also indicates that while it’s very important to identify children on the autism spectrum early by screening them between 18 and 24 months, that still isn’t happening.  While the study did find an increase in the number of children identified by age three, according to CNN, “… most children were diagnosed between ages 4 and 5, when a child’s brain is already more developed and harder to change.”

Another key finding of the report is that autism is five times more common in boys than girls. One in every 54 boys is on the autism spectrum. Gray wrote about this today, noting that in her house the prevalence of ASDs is two in four.

Seidman wants parents who may fear these statistics to know that special needs children are still wonderful children: “Raising a child with special needs sure isn’t cake; I’m nine years into this journey, and I still struggle (my son, Max, has cerebral palsy). But I wish more people realized that getting a diagnosis of autism or any other special need is not the tragedy the world makes it out to be. So often, people only hear the ‘dis’ in disability and forget what kids and adults with autism and other special needs are capable of.”

What do you think of these new numbers? Are you comforted that more children are being identified, or concerned that we have an epidemic on our hands?

Read more from Katherine on Strollerderby or at her blog on postpartum depression!
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About Katherine Stone

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Katherine Stone

Katherine Stone is the founder of the most widely-read blog in the world on postpartum depression, Postpartum Progress. She writes about parenting and maternal child health on Babble Voices and Babble Cares, as well as at Huffington Post Parents. Katherine is a mom of two and lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter at @postpartumprog. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katherine's latest posts →

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14 thoughts on “Moms Respond As CDC Says Autism In Children Up A Whopping 78%

  1. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    “autism spectrum diagnoses have increased 78%” then your headline should say this.

  2. hannah singer says:

    i think i agree with joslyn. maybe not more cases arising as much as being noticed more than before. we certainly were virtually unaware of autism…then our son was diagnosed. wish i’d better educated myself so i may have recognized symptoms sooner.

    thanks for sharing this article! xo

  3. shotgunkorea says:

    I blogged about South Korea’s Autism rate last year when I was teaching in a public school over there. In that case I really think it was a case of cultural misunderstanding. By American standards many totally neurotypical Korean students could be considered to fall on the Autism spectrum.
    http://shotgunkorea.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/autism/

  4. B. says:

    the ORIGINAL article notes that only 28 % of the increase is due to better diagnoses and i quote: ” 50 % is unknown” . Now i think if we believe the 78 percent increase is true than we should believe the 50 % unknown part as well (in the article).. . I don’t think we should just push it under the rug and say oh it is all because of better diagnosis because that is, in my opinion ignorant.. Lets find out why do we have AUTISM IN THE FIRST PLACE…it is not normal so how about we don’t just sit back and say oh it is all because of better diagnosis……. with that attitude the number will be 1 in 40 very vary soon…..

  5. B. says:

    the ORIGINAL article notes that only 28 % of the increase is due to better diagnoses and i quote: ” 50 % is unknown” . Now i think if we believe the 78 percent increase is true than we should believe the 50 % unknown part as well (in the article).. . I don’t think we should just push it under the rug and say oh it is all because of better diagnosis because that is, in my opinion ignorant.. Lets find out why do we have AUTISM IN THE FIRST PLACE…it is not normal so how about we don’t just sit back and say oh it is all because of better diagnosis……. with that attitude the number will be 1 in 40 very vary soon…..

  6. Craig Wiesner says:

    We feel like we’re seeing a much higher number of children somewhere on the spectrum here in “Silicon Valley.” We wonder if one reason for the numbers here is the number of parents who are somewhere on the spectrum who are attracted to the types of jobs here in the valley, OR, could it be something in the environment, OR, could it be a combination. Whatever the cause, the need for services / support is growing at a time when budgets are getting slashed. Hopefully increased awareness will help get more funding where it is needed, through government and donations. Thanks for sharing this post on the eve of Autism Awareness Month.

  7. Momma Lego says:

    I’ve been working with autistic children for 6 years and am completing my specialization in therapeutic intervention this year. It’s amazing the level of awareness there is now. I remember writing papers 7 or 8 years ago on the topic and not being able to find nearly as many resources that are available now. There is still a lot to learn, and awareness needs to be constantly increased. I’m glad the children who need the help are getting it. More awareness and education of warning signs will increase earlier diagnosis.

  8. davis says:

    Very glad that there is more awareness of the disorder.
    Although there may be a lack of social connection and other issues, sometimes like in the case of asperger’s, a wonderful gift is exchanged. Higher intelligence in various areas: math, science, language, art etc. The goal should/might be to find the diagnosis early enough and Support the deficiencies, train the parents and child , give as much support as possible and FIND the positive side of the disorder. Tap into the positive areas that will help build confidence in the child and help both parents and children build on these successes.
    Question? What can be done for those ADULTS that were NOT diagnosed and are having GREAT difficulty in living their lives on a day to day basis?

  9. Maria says:

    LINDA, T.O.O. is right; your headline needs to be changed to accurately reflect the information. While this headline will more click-throughs I’m sure, it’s not doing anyone a service to resort to scare tactics.
    The understanding that autism disorders exist on a spectrum has made a huge difference in diagnosis. I grew up aware of autism, but I’d never heard of Asperger’s until about 6 years ago when I came across an article. I instantly recognized a close friend in the description. I forwarded it to another mutual friend with no comment and she replied, instantly saying, “That’s X”. We said nothing to him, but four years later, at the age of 29, he came to us saying he’d been diagnosed with Asperger’s. If he was growing up now, he’d likely have been diagnosed much earlier.

  10. Erika says:

    special needs children are still wonderful children: “Raising a child with special needs sure isn’t cake; I’m nine years into this journey, and I still struggle (my son, Max, has cerebral palsy). But I wish more people realized that getting a diagnosis of autism or any other special need is not the tragedy the world makes it out to be. So often, people only hear the ‘dis’ in disability and forget what kids and adults with autism and other special needs are capable of.”

    Amen to that sister!!!
    From a mom with two awesome kids who are on the spectrum (yes the rate is 2 in 2 in my house.)

  11. Devra Davis says:

    We have to consider whether the phenomenal rise in the use of microwave emitting cellphones held next to the brain, body, and belly of the pregnant woman plays any role in the development of autism. Experimental evidence shows that prenatally exposed rodents develop smaller brains with more brain damage. This could sadly be relevant to humans. We certainly need to ask these questions and get the answers soon. Please look at http://www.ehtrust.org for more information

  12. Sarina says:

    There are many wonderful children who truly have Autism and fall on the spectrum. I am glad they are receiving services and that awareness has increased so much. We need to be careful about over diagnosing children and attaching labels. Not so long ago it seemed that ADHD was the big thing and now we don’t hear it quite so much. We need to make sure that we are not falling into bandwagon diagnostics and putting our children into categories they shouldn’t be in. The more we know about psychology and neuro- development we find that everyone can have traits of various category, but that doesn’t mean that we actually qualify to have the disability.

  13. Caffeinated Autism Mom says:

    I strongly believe that the numbers are underreported. As such, we have an epidemic on our hands. In the US we have yet to undergo a population-based collection of data related to autism. The CDC numbers only came from 14 locations in the US, and among those 14 locations they only gathered data on 8-year olds…4 years ago!!! The new data doesn’t account for both of my children on the spectrum. I have a lot of thoughts about that written in my post on the topic.http://www.caffeinatedautismmom.com/2012/03/autism-epidemic-anyone.html

    -Angela (aka Caffeinated Autism Mom)
    http://www.caffeinatedautismmom.com

  14. Lisalt says:

    Questioning or discussing why there is such an explosion in numbers of children with autism is just the start of the difficult road ahead. Having an autism diagnosis is only good for younger children who are still cute and could still be saved? How about those children who have grown-up and are about to enter into their teens and not yet able to command properly an expressive language? How about those children who are in many sprawling private schools in each state who are just being taken care of just like entering a day care. Those are the kids who need to be rescued since they are left to rot in the private schools and public schools just because they can not express themselves and sometimes resort to some aggressiveness and more so, are not being taught at all except pre-K and K stuffs? These are the children who must be given more amount of REAL therapies and be taught properly since their minds are being wasted away in just rocking, staring at the walls, etc. These are no longer the cute kids that fake therapies are trying to rescue. Hence, having a diagnosis of autism is real burden – visit private schools and public schools in your area to see what is really being done for these children with autism. It is very sad that one of these days, these very same children will end up in the institutions and that means, taxpayers’ expenses.

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