Previous numbers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported that the number of children in the United States living with autism was one in 88. However, new official numbers released Wednesday in a report titled "Changes in Prevalence of Parent-Reported Autism Spectrum Disorder in School-Aged Children: 2007 to 2011-2012" indicate that that number has increased to one in 50.
The old figures were based on a 2008 study that focused on children between the ages of eight and 14 living in 14 states across the country. The latest research survey was performed using a national telephone survey with approximately 950,000 parents in the years 2011 and 2012.
Results from the poll highlighted that more than one million children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism. However, the study authors noted that about one-quarter of parents refused to answer the question and more parents with autism were more likely to participate in the survey.
Although the numbers are imperative, health officials argue that the high number of children with autism doesn’t necessarily mean that it is more widespread, but rather doctors are diagnosing it at higher levels, especially those with milder symptoms.
“Together, these findings suggest that the increase in prevalence of parent-reported ASD may have resulted from improved ascertainment of ASD by doctors and other health care professionals in recent years, especially when the symptoms are mild,” the report stated. “Changes in the ascertainment of ASD could occur because of changes in ASD awareness among parents or health care professionals, increased access to diagnostic services, changes in how screening tests or diagnostic criteria are used, or increased special education placements in the community.”
Furthermore, it is expected that the federal and state governments will be allocating more money to research autism based on this survey. This also suggests that there will be more educational resources for parents across the nation.
What some experts, according to Forbes, are stating is that a lot of organizations and media outlets will utilize the one in 50 figure as a way to generate fear, like a pandemic or a tsunami. However, using a larger picture, it would show that the number of children born with autism hasn’t necessarily been increasing rapidly. Instead, the data would show that the health industry has improved its methods of identifying cases.
“Much of the prevalence increase from 2007 to 2011-2012 for school-aged children was the result of diagnoses of children with previously unrecognized autism spectrum disorder,” the report added.
Health experts argue that the methodologies used to compile this report were vastly different; therefore, it would be rather difficult for physicians and clinicians to make a conclusion regarding prevalence and diagnoses.
“We can’t dismiss this report, but we can’t interpret it to mean that more people have a diagnosis. It means that more families are thinking of this as a possibility and maybe more professionals are bringing it up,” said Dr. Catherine Lord, director for the Center for Autism and Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell and Columbia, in an interview with the New York Times.