Autism :: CDC releases new data on autism spectrum disorders

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported findings today from the first and largest summary of prevalence data from multiple U.S. communities participating in an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) surveillance project.

The results showed an average of 6.7 children out of 1,000 had an ASD in the six communities assessed in 2000, and an average of 6.6 children out of 1,000 having an ASD in the 14 communities included in the 2002 study. All children in the studies were eight years old because previous research has shown that most children with an ASD have been identified by this age for services.

For decades, the best estimate for the prevalence of autism was four to five per 10,000 children. More recent studies from multiple countries using current diagnostic criteria conducted with different methods have indicated that there is a range of ASD prevalence between 1 in 500 children and 1 in 166 children. The CDC studies provide information on the occurrence of ASDs in fourteen communities in the United States.

“Our estimates are becoming better and more consistent, though we can’t yet tell if there is a true increase in ASDs or if the changes are the result of our better studies,” said CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding. “We do know, however, that these disorders are affecting too many children.”

Overall, the 2000 study found ASD rates ranged from one in 222 children to one in 101 eight-year old children in the six communities studied.

The 2002 study found ASD rates ranging from one in 303 to one in 94 among eight-year old children. The average finding of 6.6 and 6.7 per 1,000 eight-year-olds translates to approximately one in 150 children in these communities. This is consistent with the upper end of prevalence estimates from previously published studies, with some of the communities having an estimate higher than those previously reported in U.S. studies.

ASDs are developmental disabilities and are defined by considerable impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. They can be diagnosed as early as 18 months and last throughout a person’s life. ASDs include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, including atypical autism), and Asperger syndrome.

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