It’s one of the most controversial diagnoses of our time, and it’s affecting more children than ever. According to a recent statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis was 1 in 68 in 2012, compared with only 1 in 88 in 2010, a jump of about 30 percent in 2 years.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), ASD is a “range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotypes patterns of behavior.”
For their research, the CDC analyzed information from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, estimating of prevalence of autism among 8-year old children in 11 different sites.
Their findings reveal that autism is far more common in boys than girls—nearly five times so. One in 42 boys have ASD while for girls the rate is just 1 in 189. It is also more common in white children than in black or Hispanic kids.
“Community leaders, health professionals, educators and childcare providers should use these data to ensure children with ASD are identified as early as possible and connected to the services they need,” says Coleen Boyle, PhD, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
She’s right in that identifying these children early can begin interventionist therapies early, including speech therapy and even counseling. What’s frightening, however, is when you consider all of the children diagnosed with ASD who are being prescribed powerful medications to control their symptoms.
Despite the growing number of children with the disorders, we still don’t know what’s causing it. The NINDS says it’s believed both genetics and environment play a role in ASD, as scientists have identified a “number of genes associated with the disorder.”
Often, children with autism have abnormal levels of serotonin or other important messenger chemicals in the brain, suggesting it could arise from genetic defects or even environmental factors that disrupt gene function.
If factors like these are at the root of the climbing autism numbers, we cannot wait for officials to legislate or mandate prevention programs. Parents must educate themselves on the research available even before they get pregnant, and do what they can to prevent this challenging disorder in their future kids.