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Autism Hits 1 in 88 U.S. Kids, 1 in 54 Boys

CDC: Autism Up 23% From 2006 to 2008 as Rates Continue to Rise

Autism Prevalence Varies Across States

The CDC study -- the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) study -- is based on data from over 337,000 8-year-olds in 14 states. That's 8.4% of all U.S. 8-year-olds. The study first used health and education records to identify kids with possible autism. Then all of the records were analyzed by autism professionals to identify kids who fit the current autism diagnosis.

Autism rates varied widely across states. Autism prevalence was one in 47 kids in Utah, but only one in 210 children in Alabama. Study sites that relied only on health records to identify kids with autism had significantly lower autism rates than sites that had both health and education records.

For example, in Colorado there was a single county with access to both education and health records. The autism rate there was twice as high as the rate in six Colorado counties with health records only.

Despite the different autism rates across sites, the overall autism prevalence detected is similar to that estimated by other national health surveys.

"This method is really the gold standard for tracking autism," Boyle says. "One thing we do know is we don't overestimate autism prevalence."

High Autism Rate a Call to Action

While it's important to understand why so many kids have autism, it's even more important to do something about it, says Rebecca Landa, PhD, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger Institute. Landa led one of the 14 sites in the ADDM study.

"The practical side of this is we have one in 88 children in our country with an autism spectrum disorder," Landa tells WebMD. "That has very big implications for how we prepare teachers and daycare providers -- and how to be parents."

Landa's own research shows that the earlier children with autism get proper education, the better they function -- emotionally, socially, and intellectually.

"I wish I could say things have changed a lot, but it is not enough," Landa says. "More and more universities are preparing teachers to work with kids with autism, but many times it is a single lecture or just one course. We need to be building strategies into not just special education but also in the regular education training, because the strategies we used to teach children with autism are helpful for all children.

Teaching a child does more than show that child how to act: It actually changes the way that child's brain develops.

"If we are altering children's brain, we should be thinking of education as neuro-education," Landa says. "Something as serious as altering a child's brain development will impact a child's whole live: how they interact with others, how they view themselves, how they contribute to society. These things have such huge ramifications not only for each child and each family but for our country.

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