A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that one in 68 American children are currently dealing with autism. Two years ago a similar CDC report showed that one in 88 children had been diagnosed as autistic.
In terms of overall numbers, that means autism now affects roughly 1.2 million young Americans. Two years ago the number was closer to one million.
The numbers are somewhat alarming, though autism experts say it may not mean the disorder is becoming more common. Instead, they suggest that medical experts are now becoming more familiar with autism, and are now more qualified to detect milder symptoms of autism in children.
“We can’t dismiss the numbers,” noted Marisela Huerta, a New York-based psychologist and autism expert. “But we can’t interpret it to mean more people are getting the disorder.”
The CDC’s Coleen Boyle admits it’s hard to know for sure if autism is becoming a bigger problem or if the disorder is simply becoming more familiar to medical professionals.
“We cannot say what portion is from better diagnosis and improved understanding versus if there’s a real change,” Boyle said.
Autism is a general term for a series of complex disorders that affect development of the brain. The disorder is characterized by problems in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication. Ongoing research suggests that autism begins in the early stages of brain development.
Medical professionals acknowledge that diagnosing autism is not an exact science and is entirely based on examining a child’s behavior. Experts still don’t know what causes autism.
In any case, it’s clear more and more children are being diagnosed with autism. When the CDC began studying the disorder in 2007, it was estimated that one in 150 children were dealing with autism.