Autism Prevalent In More Than 1% of US Children

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Among children ages 3 to 17, slightly more than 1 percent have autism or a related disorder, according to the results of a study just released in the journal Pediatrics. This is significantly more than the one in 150 statistic that has been used since 2003.

This latest figure was derived from data used from a 2007 survey of children's health conducted by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In that survey, more than 78,000 parents of children ages 3 to 17 were questioned about whether their child or children had ever been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder is a group of brain disorders that encompasses three main types: classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. Individuals who have either of the latter two conditions typically have milder symptoms of autistic disorder and usually do not have problems with language or intellectual disabilities.

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Children who have autism typically have significant difficulties with communication, social challenges, unusual behaviors, and language delays. Some also have intellectual disabilities. Autism can begin at birth or within the first two and one-half years of life. Boys are four times more likely to have the disorder than are girls, as well as non-Hispanic blacks and multiracial children.

Based on the results of the survey, the authors of the study, led by Michael D. Kogan, PhD, of the HRSA’s maternal and child health bureau, believe the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children ages 3 to 17 is slightly more than 1 percent. They also estimate that 673,000 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder.

The authors note that the increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder does not necessarily mean more children have the disorder now than previously. One reason for the increased numbers may reflect a heightened awareness of the condition and that more parents are seeking help from the medical system.

Regardless of the number of children who have autism spectrum disorder, its pervading presence in society raises many concerns and questions about how to properly meet the education needs of these children, ensuring there are sufficient resources for counseling and therapy for both the children and their families, addressing their medication needs, and for the longer term, how to address employment, social, economic, and other challenges individuals with autism will face as they enter adulthood.

SOURCES:
Autism Research Institute
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Kogan MD et al. Pediatrics published online doi:10.1542/peds.2009-1522

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