The Center for Disease Control (CDC), a government agency, just released some new statistics regarding the prevalence of autism among American school children. It says 1 in 50 children have been diagnosed with autism or a related disorder. Previously released data had the estimate much lower at 1 in 88 school children affected by autism.
Understandably, the new statistics are concerning to some parents. Why the sudden increase? Is there reason to be alarmed by this data? Is autism becoming more widespread?
We shouldn’t panic about the new data because of two important factors:
We cannot compare the two surveys using an apples-to-apples approach. The research was conducted differently. The data that was released in 2007, which said that 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with autism , was a study of medical and school records. The more recent data is based on a national phone survey of parents.
Parents who are more aware of the disorder, or who have a child with autism, are probably more likely to take the call and respond to the surveyor’s questions.
Autism has not become more prevalent, but the way that we look at and diagnose autism has changed since 2007.
When the first survey was conducted, we looked at autism with a narrower view. Children with milder problems, including certain language problems, were not diagnosed. Today, these children are placed on the autism spectrum.
Although I do not believe that the recent data shows an increase in the prevalence of autism among American school children, the disorder remains scary when it affects someone you love.
Regardless of the number that follows, know what steps to take when your child is the “1 in:”