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CDC: 1 in 150 Kids May Have Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders More Common Than Previously Believed, CDC Says After 14-State Study
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 8, 2007 -- Autism disorders are "more common than previously believed," affecting about one in 150 8-year-olds in the 14 states studied, says the CDC.

That's higher than previous CDC estimates of up to one in 166 children.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) include autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder (including atypical autism). These disorders involve impairments with social, communicative, and behavioral skills.

CDC officials pointed out that the new figures don't represent all U.S. children, or show whether autism is increasing in the U.S.

But the CDC's study was designed to provide "more consistent and reliable estimates," says the CDC's Marshalynn Yeargin-Allsopp, MD.

"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," says CDC director Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, in a CDC news release.

"We do know, however, that these disorders are affecting too many children," Gerberding says.

'Urgent' Issue

Autism spectrum disorders are an "urgent public health issue that affects the lives of many families and communities," Yeargin-Allsopp told reporters.

Yeargin-Allsopp heads the Developmental Disabilities branch of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The CDC report calls for greater efforts to diagnose children as early as possible so they can be treated -- and shows that early diagnosis is too rare.

It appears in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries.

Autism Prevalence

The report tracks the prevalence (number of cases) of autism spectrum disorder cases in 407,578 children in 14 U.S. communities who were 8 years old in 2002.

The communities are in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The study identified 2,685 children in those communities as having an autism spectrum disorder.

Those children's school or health care records either showed an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis or "unusual social behaviors consistent with an ASD [autism spectrum disorder]," the CDC report says.

Prevalence Varies

The average ASD prevalence among the 14 study sites was 6.6 per 10,000 children, or about one in 152 children.

New Jersey had the highest ASD prevalence rate of the 14 sites: 10.6 per 1,000 8-year-olds -- or one in 94 children.

The Alabama site had the lowest rate: 3.3 per 1,000 8-year-old children, or one in 303.

The remaining 12 sites had prevalence rates ranging from 5.2 to 7.6 per 1,000 8-year-olds.

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