U.S. autism rate surges, CDC reports

WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. children with autism has surged to one in 68, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday, a 30 percent increase since the agency estimated just two years ago that one child in 88 suffered from the disorder.

The new estimate, based on a review of records in 2010 for 8-year-olds in 11 states, also showed a marked increase in the number of children with higher IQs who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum and a wide range of results depending on where a child lives. Only one child in 175 was diagnosed with autism in Alabama, while one in 45 was found to have the disorder in New Jersey.

The information was reported in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“It could be that doctors are getting better at identifying these children, there could be a growing number of children with high intelligence who are autistic, or it could be both,” said Coleen Boyle, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

As in previous reports, the diagnosis is much more common in boys (one in 42) than girls (one in 189), and much more frequently found in whites than blacks or Hispanics. Boyle said the racial disparity is most likely due to better reporting of the disorder in whites.

Children with the most extreme form of autism are withdrawn, speak little, avoid eye contact and engage in repetitive actions. Milder forms, such as Asperger’s syndrome, are now considered to fall along the autism spectrum. In the past, children with Asperger’s, for example, might have been considered peculiar and abnormal but not suffering from a disorder.

The CDC said it would be announcing a new initiative to encourage parents to have young children screened for autism in their early years and to ensure children are given the support they need. Officials said most children are not diagnosed until they are at least 4 years old, though identification is possible as early as 2. Any parent who has concerns about how a child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves should seek an assessment, officials said.

Autism treatment requires time and patience. Medical expenses for children with autism are six times as high as those for children without the disorder. Behavioral therapy, often delivered one-on-one, can cost as much as $60,000 per year.

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