CDC data show increase in number of US children diagnosed with autism

A new report on autism rates in the US received heavy coverage in print and online, and was discussed for up to ten minutes on many national news broadcasts.  Many sources provide quotes from CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden on the findings. ABC World News reported, “A new report from the Centers of Disease Control shows a big increase in the number of American children diagnosed with autism.”

The CBS Evening News reports that Dr. Colleen Boyle of the CDC, who “oversaw the study,” said, “No matter what the number is, there’s one thing for certain, and that is that more children are being identified with autism.”

On NBC Nightly News, Dr. Boyle, said, “Since 2002, the problems have increased 78%.”

In a second segment on NBC Nightly News, Dr. Alanna Levine, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said, “We need to allocate” research funds “towards finding out what is causing the autism spectrum disorders, and how we can help these children and it can also help communities allocate resources to make sure there are services available for children who need them.”

The AP reports, “The CDC study is considered the most comprehensive US investigation of autism prevalence to date. Researchers gathered data from areas in 14 states – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.”

The report indicates that “one child out of 88 in the US” has “autism or a related disorder.”

USA Today reports that the “figures … show a 23% increase in autism spectrum cases from 2006 to 2008, and 78% increase since 2002.”

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said, “What we do know for certain is autism is common and needs to be effectively served.”

According to the Washington Post, the report found that “autism is five times as common in boys as girls (a lopsided ratio found in many other studies).”

Researchers also found that “the fraction of autistic children with average or above-average intelligence has risen more than the fraction with ‘intellectual disability.'”

Meanwhile, “autism prevalence in Hispanic children is two-thirds that of white children, but it is rising faster in them and in black children than in white ones.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that CDC epidemiologist Jon Baio, the report’s principal investigator, said, “Our study really is more of a study of demographic differences and population differences.”

The Time “Healthland” blog reports that Frieden said, “At this point, I think it’s a possibility that the increase in identification of autism is entirely the result of better detection. We don’t know whether or not that is the case, but it is a possibility.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Thomas Insel, head of the National Institute of Mental Health, who did not participate in the study, acknowledged the impact of increased detection on the higher rates, he pointed out that “it certainly feels to most of us who’ve been in the field for a long that there are more children affected.”

But, he added, “We just don’t have the type of evidence we have for HIV [and other areas of health] where there’s been a dramatic increase.”

The New York Times reports, “Doctors working to update the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have proposed significant changes to the definition of autism, which are due to take effect in 2013. If the changes are carried out, some experts say, they could reduce the number of children being given a diagnosis.”

CQ reports, “Frieden and other CDC officials on the call said the data from the 14 communities study are consistent with other data for the whole country.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Boyle “said the tracking in these 14 communities has helped the CDC identify risk factors.”

For instance, “researchers know advanced parental age and premature birth contribute to the chances of a child having autism.”

CNN quotes Frieden as saying, “The earlier kids are detected, the earlier they could get services, and the less impairment they’ll have on their learning and in their lives on a long-term basis is our best understanding.”
Currently, “the CDC is working with the Academy of American Pediatrics to recommend that children get screened for autism at ages 18 months and 24 months, Frieden says.”

But, CNN adds, “According to the CDC report, most children were diagnosed between ages 4 and 5, when a child’s brain is already more developed and harder to change.”

The Hill “Healthwatch” blog quotes HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as saying, “This information paints a picture of the magnitude of the condition across our country and helps us understand how communities identify children with autism.”

According to Kathleen Sebelius, “that is why HHS and our entire administration has been working hard to improve the lives of people living with autism spectrum disorders and their families by improving research, support, and services.”

The National Journal reports, “HHS gives states grants of between $220,000 and $300,000 a year to provide better care for the families of children with autism and similar developmental disabilities.”

Additionally, “the National Institutes of Health has allocated an extra $169 million in 2012 for autism screening efforts as well as in development of diagnostics, treatments, and the search for possible causes.”

The Salt Lake (UT) Tribune reports, “One out of 47 Utah children have been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, the highest rate in the country, according to” the “new data.”

What’s more, “in Utah, boys are almost three times as likely to have autism than girls with one in 32 boys identified, according to the new data, versus one in 85 girls.”

The Deseret (UT) Morning News reports that the new data indicate that “autism rates jumped 157 percent in Utah from 2002 to 2008.”

The Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger reports that “in New Jersey, the rate was 1 in 49, second-highest in the nation.”

The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer reports, “The North Carolina estimate came from an 11-county chunk of the central part of state including Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties, and the major Triad counties. In that area, nearly 1 in 70 children were estimated to have been diagnosed – up from 1 in 96 in the 2010 report.”

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