CDC Autism is more common than previously thought
CDC Autism is more common than previously thought

New research showing one in 88 US children have autism spectrum disorders is focusing national attention on the need for earlier diagnosis and treatment especially in rural and minority communities

Figures released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 23 increase in autism spectrum cases from 2006 to 2008 and 78 increase since 2002

The largest increases in autism prevalence were found among black and Hispanic children who have lagged behind whites in previous counts Numbers are higher for boys with one in 54 8yearolds now considered to have autism Aspergers or a related condition though no one knows why the condition is five times more likely to affect boys than girls

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More children are being diagnosed at younger ages average age at diagnosis has dropped from 4 to 4 But it needs to be even earlier says Coleen Boyle director of the CDCs National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities We heard from many parents that they were concerned long before their child was diagnosed We are working hard to change that

Its also not known whether increases are because of better counting or something in the environment or a mixture of both Researchers are examining air pollution nutrition medications environmental toxins and other factors as possible contributors

At least some of the increase is due to better awareness and diagnosis however I dont believe the whole thing is diagnostic says Peter Bearman a Columbia University sociologist who studies autism rates in California He says his data are consistent with the CDCs

What we do know for certain is autism is common and needs to be effectively served says CDC Director Thomas Frieden We need to continue to increase the number of kids who are detected detected early and enrolled in services early

The CDC has a surveillance network around the country that has counted 8yearolds on the autism spectrum every two years The new numbers are based on tallies from 14 sites

Autism Speaks an advocacy and research funding agency says the figures mean that the US needs to take fast action to help families and children on the spectrum and invest in the kind of research that will help better explain why the numbers are rising so rapidly

Clearly we have a national emergency and clearly we need a national plan said Mark Roithmayr the groups president Its time for us as a nation to see these numbers for what they truly are and for us as a nation to commit to doing much more than weve done for date

Roy Richard Grinker an anthropology professor at The George Washington University in Washington DC said he thinks the numbers still underestimate the problem He conducted a study last year in South Korea that found an autism rate of one in 38 children there

States including Alabama for instance have long lagged behind others in autism diagnoses Grinker said because it is a large rural state without many services for children with autism Rising rates may actually be a good thing he said because it means more children who need help are being identified

It doesnt mean that theres a true increase in cases says Grinker whose 20yearold daughter is on the autism spectrum

Although the CDCs 14 surveillance sites are not statistically representative of the nation with some in large urban districts and others in rural areas the agency is confident in the accuracy of its autism figures Boyle says The numbers are painstakingly collected by looking through medical and educational records she adds which is why it took the CDC four years to prepare them The rates also match up with autism figures derived in other ways she says

Early diagnosis is considered essential because treatments are more effective when started at a young age Most early treatment consists of oneonone attention with the child to teach social and communication skills that do not come naturally Occupational therapy and sensory processing therapy can also help children cope better with the sensory overload that often comes with autism where sounds can seem louder sights more overwhelming and the tag in a shirt can feel unbearable

Autismspectrum disorders include three major categories autism Aspergers and Pervasive Developmental DisorderNot Otherwise Specified or PDDNOS To be diagnosed with autism a child must have deficits in three areas communication social skills and in the ability to shift focus children tend to perform repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping Those diagnosed with Aspergers learned to speak at the appropriate time but communicate awkwardly those with PDDNOS are considered to fall on the higher functioning end of the spectrum

A professional group is now considering changing the diagnosis of autismspectrum disorders potentially eliminating some people on the milder end but also adding consideration of sensory problems Though the suggested change has met opposition from some parents and advocates Frieden Boyle and Susan Hyman of the American Association of Pediatrics said at the CDC news conference that they are not concerned about a potential change in definition Boyle said the CDCs records are so carefully constructed that they can easily go back and reconcile a new definition with the current one

Theres the real possibility that the new definition will actually be better for children and better for families said Hyman chairwoman of the pediatric societys autism subcommittee She says autism is much better understood today than it was the last time the definition was changed in 1994

As that change is being considered researchers across the country are busy trying to understand what in the environment might be causing so many cases of autism

Irva HertzPicciotto a professor at the University of CaliforniaDavis MIND Institute said she thinks the government and private groups havent spent enough money researching possible environmental contributors to autism

So much of the funding has gone toward genetics that the environment has hardly been looked at and yet we already have several clues she says We also need to think about prevention and thats where the environmental concerns are so so critical

In a study last year HertzPicciotto found that mothers who did not take prenatal vitamins before and in the early months of pregnancy were more likely to have children on the spectrum Antidepressant use has also been linked to autism as have immune problems in the mother and aging parents

Research by HertzPicciotto and others suggests that air pollution nutrition medications and toxic chemicals might all be contributing to the rise in autism rates

While were not completely sure of what is driving the rise in autism cases it is certainly striking enough to warrant exploring in detail the possibility that environmental exposures contribute to this said Marc Weisskopf an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who is studying a possible link between air pollution and autism There are plenty of other reasons to avoid chemical toxicants but we cant yet pinpoint whether one of these is a culprit in this rise

The CDC plans to use its autism surveillance network to examine rates of cerebral palsy intellectual disabilities and vision problems according to Susan Levy a developmental pediatrician at the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia who is involved in the research Knowing the rates of other conditions will help put the autism in a broader context Levy said If everything is increasing it gives you perspective

Warning signs of autism

Doctors now say that autism can be detected as early as 18 months though some of its symptoms overlap with other conditions Parents and pediatricians should be concerned if an older infant or toddler

Does not follow a pointed figure or use his or her own finger to point to objects

Acts as if deaf

Fails to respond when his or her name is called

Has poor eye contact

Rarely tries to imitate sounds and movements others make such as smiling and laughing during simple social exchanges

Infrequently seeks adult attention

Is delayed in motor development including delayed rolling over pushing up and crawling

Sources CDC Susan Levy Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia Rebecca Landa Director of the Center for Autism and related Disorders Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore

Date : 30 Mar, 2012
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