On March 20, 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report suggesting that 1 in 50 children between the ages of 6 and 17 have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. This is higher than the 1 in 88 reported on a 2007 survey. There has been much discussion about what the new report means.
The current study was based on phone calls to a random sample of more than 95,000 parents during which they were asked whether their children ages 6-17 had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Diagnosis was defined as the parent being told by a doctor or health care worker that his or her child had ASD.
The new data indicates that there were no differences in the diagnosis rate in different age groups compared to the 2007 survey in which children aged 14-17 were less likely to have a diagnosis. The March 2013 report notes: "the observed increase in ASD prevalence between 2007 and 2011-12 among children in the 1994-2005 birth cohort is related to relatively recent diagnosis". The report also notes that most of the increase is in children who have "mild" autism. In other words, it appears that the increased rate is due to the fact that older children, most of whom have relatively mild symptoms of autism, are more likely to have been diagnosed after 2008.
The new estimate would mean at least 1 million children have autism. This number is significant as government officials look at the prevalence of each illness and disorder when weighing how to spend limited public health funds.
It appears that we are increasingly recognizing individuals of all ages who have autism characteristics. Whether their characteristics are mild or severe, individuals need supports and services. Appropriate intervention to teach social and communication skills will continue to be necessary to allow those with autism to function effectively in society.
Dr. Barbara Luskin, PhD, LP
Autism Society of Minnesota