According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), that includes a wide range of symptoms that may result in mild impairment to severe disability. There are five pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) included in ASD: autism; Asperger’s syndrome; pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS); Rett syndrome; and, childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).
Symptoms of autism usually fall within three general areas: social impairment, communication difficulties, and repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. Developmental delays noted by parents and/or noted through general developmental screening during routine well-child visits to health care providers may give rise to the need for additional evaluation by specialists who may diagnose autism or another developmental disorder. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that specific ASD screening be done between 18 months and 2 years. Autism can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 2 although screening tests at age 18 months or even younger may be helpful in the diagnosis.
In 2000, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network to collect data that would provide estimates of the prevalence of ASDs and other developmental disabilities in the United States. The 14 ADDM sites that provided data for the 2008 surveillance year covered a total population of 337,093 children aged 8 years, which represented 8.4% of the U.S. population of 8-year-old children in 2008 (age 8 is the age of identified peak prevalence of ASDs). The ADDM sites do not make up a nationally representative sample and therefore the CDC cautions that the prevalence estimates within its reporting should not be generalized to the United States as a whole.
The Prevalence Of Autism Jumped 23% From 2006 to 2008, And 78% From 2002 to 2008
In the CDC’s report dated March 30, 2012, entitled Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008, the CDC reported that for children aged 8 in its monitoring network, the overall estimated prevalence of ASDs was one in 88 children (one in 54 for boys and one in 252 for girls) for 2008, an increase of 23% from 2006 (up from 9.0 per 1,000 children in 2006 to 11.0 per 1,000 children in 2008). The increase was even more dramatic when compared to 2002: an increase in the amount of 78% (6.4 per 1,000 children in 2002).
Autism Prevalence Estimates: A Comparison Between 2006 And 2008
Of the 11 sites completing both the 2006 and 2008 surveillance years, seven sites identified a higher prevalence of ASDs in 2008 compared with 2006, whereas three sites identified a similar prevalence in both years, and one site identified a lower prevalence in 2008 compared with 2006. Six sites identified an increased prevalence among males in 2008, and the remaining five sites identified a similar prevalence among males in 2006 compared with 2008.
Between 2006 and 2008, there was a 16% increase in ASD prevalence among non-Hispanic white children, a 42% increase among non-Hispanic black children, and a 29% increase among Hispanic children.
The CDC reported that ASD prevalence was significantly lower among Hispanic children than among non-Hispanic white children in nine sites and significantly lower than among non-Hispanic black children in five sites, although Florida identified a significantly higher ASD prevalence among Hispanic children compared with either non-Hispanic white or non-Hispanic black children and New Jersey identified approximately the same estimated ASD prevalence among non-Hispanic white children, non-Hispanic black children, and Hispanic children.
Autism Prevalence Estimates: A Comparison Between 2002 And 2008
ASD prevalence estimates increased 78% from 2002 to 2008, with an increase of 82% for males and an increase of 63% for females. There was an increase of 70% among non-Hispanic white children, an increase of 91% among non-Hispanic black children, and an increase of 110% among Hispanic children.
The CDC reported, “While ASD prevalence estimates in the overall population increased 23% for the 2-year period 2006–2008, and 78% during the 6-year period 2002–2008, the largest increases over time were noted among Hispanic children and non-Hispanic black children…”
The CDC report noted that “The extent to which these increases reflect better case ascertainment as a result of increases in awareness and access to services or true increases in prevalence of ASD symptoms is not known.”
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