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Are there really that many people with autism out there?
March 31, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Experts are now claiming that as many as 1 in 68 children could have autism spectrum disorder, according to a CDC study that was done of the records of children in 11 states.
That's up from the 1 in 88 that has been touted in a recent series in TV ads and the 1 in 150 that was the common number cited seven years ago. Does anyone else wonder if there is a lot of overdiagnosis going on?
I've seen anecdotal evidence that autism is more common than it was a few years ago. Two people I know have talked about their sons with autism. Over the years I have interviewed several children with autism. The kids with so-called "Asperger's" ranged from people who seemed perfectly normal and appropriate to those who most people would identify as a little bit "off" within moments of meeting them. These were the kids who rattled on obsessively about movies or butterflies or some other obscure interest and had no idea they were boring others. None of them were as profoundly impaired as the autistic child I wrote about who was non-verbal, rocked back and forth and will never be able to take care of herself or live on her own as an adult. No one would say a child with such profound disabilities is not autistic. But what about the kid who can't shut up about the YouTube video he just watched of a fight on the Geraldo Rivera show back in the 1980s? What's the difference between a bright, socially awkward introvert and a kid with a developmental disorder? Early intervention can make a big difference for kids on the spectrum but I wonder if some therapies might be not only ineffective but perhaps even harmful in cases where a child is not actually autistic. That's why it's important for a diagnosis to be made by an experienced professional and should be based on the child's behavior in a variety of settings, over a period of time.
Forbes Magazine, citing the CDC statistics, makes the point that the definition of autism spectrum disorder is now more all-encompassing and more people are being diagnosed than might have been 20 years ago. There's also a big difference in diagnosis rates depending on where a family lives and the availability of services. One in 45 kids in New Jersey was diagnosed with autism compared with one in 175 in Alabama. The Forbes article can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/03/28/10-things-to-keep-in-mind-about-the-cdcs-new-report-on-autism/
So what do you think? Is autism being overdiagnosed or are they just doing a better job of identifying kids with the disorder?
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