Autism Rates Have Doubled in the United States

According to a new study done by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in 45 children has some type of autism spectrum disorder. While there are many questions parents have about how and why their child develops these disorders, medical science is still pondering whether it happens due to environmental or genetic factors or if it’s caused by something else entirely.

The Study

The study authors believe the reason for the increase in autism diagnosis rates was likely because of a change in questions that parents are asked about their child.

Dr. Glen Elliot, chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children’s Health Council of Palo Alto, CA, said, “Probably the most important finding of this paper, which is hardly new, is that how one asks a question matters.”

He further explained, “The CDC spends considerable time appropriately emphasizing that the total number of individuals in the three categories covered- intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders and developmental disability- has not changed.” Dr. Elliot concluded that what has changed is the distribution among each group.

The findings of the CDC study were published in the November 13, 2015, in a report entitled, CDC’s National Health Statistic Reports.

The CDC had more than 11,000 families complete their survey in 2014. The families were asked to answer questions about one child in their household between the ages of 3 and 17 years of age. Researchers asked parents if a medical professional had ever told them their child suffered from autism, Asperger’s disorder, autism spectrum disorder or pervasive developmental disorder.

The results were that more than 2 percent of parents answered yes. The finding works out to be that about one in 45 children, according to study authors.
With previous surveys, a similar number of parents were asked if a doctor or health care professional had stated their child had any sort of autism spectrum disorder. Some of the other disorders on the list included Down syndrome, heart conditions, arthritis, cerebral palsy and diabetes.

Approximately 1.25 percent of parents in the previous studies stated their child had autism spectrum disorder. When computing those statistics it would equate to about one in 80 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chief of development and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, Dr. Andrew Adesman said, “Irony is that the survey is, for the first time, now asking specifically about Asperger’s disorder-a diagnosis that was actually eliminated in 2013 with revisions to the DSM, the diagnostic manual that all clinicians use.”

That means that when Asperger’s was an approved diagnosis, researchers didn’t inquire about it with parents. Now that it is no longer an official diagnosis under DSM criteria, the CDC is asking parents about the disorder.


Although there have been many changes in how autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed and classed, what hasn’t changed is the need to ensure children receive early intervention in order to allow them to meet their full potential.

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