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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

So what do you think? Is autism being overdiagnosed or are they just doing a better job of identifying kids with the disorder?


Article Comments

Apr-03-14 2:35 PM

Do families with an autistic child get paid to take care of that child? I know in MN some parents are paid to take care of their own children with autism. Is that a common practice? Anyone know?


Apr-02-14 2:46 PM

Thank you, Andrea. You're right about the varying levels of the autism spectrum disorder. Our son functions well. My thoughts go out to those without his level of functioning. The parent-child relationship would have to adapt for so many lifestyle choices: will my child be able to work? will he drive? will she be able to have a family of her own? what about money concerns? The list is endless and has to be addressed within the functioning level of the autistic person.


Apr-02-14 2:39 PM

Thanks, EarlyBird. Your comment about church has value, no matter the human. I don't want to take away from that at all.

In fact, our son enjoyed going to church. People were accepting of him, and he learned much about the social cues that others simply take for granted.

For example, most people can usually "pick up" when a conversation needs to move on to the next subject. Like Andrea related, people with autism spectrum disorder do not have these social abilities. They are much more literal. You'd have to say it plainly, like "let's talk about something else, ok?"

Patience helps and we've been learning that together.


Apr-02-14 2:37 PM

As far as I know, they've folded the Asperger's diagnosis under the same umbrella as autism spectrum disorder in the latest edition of the DSM, so that includes mild forms of the disorder along with the severely autistic. I certainly wish the best for your son, Locomotive.


Apr-02-14 1:48 PM

Yeah I used Church as an example of organized social gatherings that the people show order and respect at not as a remedy.

When you are in the picture like you are Loco it is different than being unbiased and not in the picture. It's like you can't see the forest because of all the trees. I wish health and happiness to you and your family Loco.


Apr-02-14 12:41 PM

I recall a few years back that I was in Barnes & Noble during "Mental Health Awareness" month (or something like that). Their book tables had stacks of books dealing with all kinds of mental health issues. I picked one up about Asperger's syndrome, casually skimmed a few pages, and started to cry. What the author was describing was our son. He'd had varying degrees of all the symptoms listed.

Once we all knew, all of us could deal with it. Our son knows he has Asperger's. I'll never forget what he told me, after we discussed what that meant. He said, "You should have told me sooner. I thought I was crazy or something."


Apr-02-14 12:36 PM

We have a child, now over 18, with Asperger's syndrome. Going to church wasn't a problem for him. We parents had to learn first that there was a problem, then we all learned to deal with it. We've seen our son accept some limitations, yet he's exceeded some expectations too. The parent-child relationship has changed, but it hasn't been all bad changes.

As Andrea mentioned, there are many differences in "functionality" in people with autism. Asperger's syndrome is more highly functional. Some people might not even know if one of their friends has Asperger's, just that the friend is a little different or seems eccentric. Because of that, we didn't really know what we were dealing with until other "symptoms" came up in our life with our son.


Apr-02-14 10:01 AM

Who and what we imitate becomes who and what we are.


Apr-02-14 9:52 AM

Another thought... We are not born believing in God but we learn to and that effects the rest of our lives. I think it is very possible that by going to Church at a very young age while we are still learning by imitating many of us learn a form of self control by being a part of the congregation of people that sit still and remain silent other than Prayer. Learning by seeing and participating, a real group therapy.

There are some big pieces to the Autism puzzle missing, I think Church is one of them. There has always been autistic people but as people have stopped attending Church autism seems to be very common. Put Church in your right hand and Autism in your left hand and figure out which one you want your children to have.


Apr-02-14 9:21 AM

I think everybody is a little autistic, one example is the people we know who over react to flying insects are autistic. They chose to over react rather than just do what the rest of the people do. This is a learned trait that starts with the parents or whoever is raising the kids. I agree Andrea true mental deficiencies do exist.


Apr-02-14 8:15 AM

I don't doubt that autism has increased or that it's important for people who have some form of autism spectrum disorder to get early treatment so they can reach their maximum potential. I question whether it has increased to the extent the CDC says it has.


Apr-01-14 5:28 PM

If a kid actually is autistic, then simple discipline probably isn't going to be enough to solve their problems.

I do think there are probably a lot of kids who have been misdiagnosed or put on medication for various problems that don't exist. A lot of the experts say you can go a long way towards solving learning and behavioral problems by providing a kid with a structured environment, 10 hours of sleep a night and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and by strictly limiting computer and TV time.


Apr-01-14 8:16 AM

Why don't the parents intervene early? I think many of the kids just lack discipline and the parents want somebody else to lower the boom on their kids. The kids need something real to wrap their minds around like chores and responsibility.


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