Autism rate higher than earlier estimated by experts

About one in 110 children have autism, according to the U.S. government’s latest estimate released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ATLANTA — About one in 110 children have autism, according to the U.S. government’s latest estimate released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s a small change from a one in 100 preliminary estimate that CDC officials made in October from the same study. CDC officials said the latest number comes from a more complete analysis of reports from 11 states.

Until recently, the CDC had been saying autism occurred in one in 150 children. The new CDC estimate looks at eight-year-old children who had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in 2006.

The increase may be due in part to better diagnosis and changes in how well records of it were kept in the study sites, said Catherine Rice, a CDC behavioural scientist who worked on the new report.

“At this point it’s impossible to say how much is a true increase and how much is identification,” she said.

Doctors do not know what causes autism, but have been investigating possible genetic and environmental triggers. Results from the environmental research is still years away, Rice said.In October, officials from the National Institute of Mental Health published results of a 2007 telephone survey of parents, that concluded that one in 91 children had autism. At the same time, the CDC released to the media preliminary results of one in 100 from its own research. The study is based on medical and school records of nearly 2,800 children in communities in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Autism is diagnosed by making judgments about a child’s behaviour; there are no blood or biologic tests. For decades, the diagnosis was given only to kids with severe language and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviours. The definition of autism has gradually expanded, and “autism” is now shorthand for a group of milder, related conditions.

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