New report shows sharp increase in Autism cases - - Jackson, MS

New report shows sharp increase in Autism cases

Fifteen-year-old Zach does not speak,  communicating with his mother with simple signs. She asks, "Wanna go back to the swings?" 

Zach has autism. And according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control, he is one of a sharply increasing number of kids identified as having autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Coleen Boyle is the director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "We estimate that 1 in 68 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder."

The review of school and medical records represents a 30% increase from similar data two years ago. There are better diagnostic tools and greater awareness but no one clear reason for the rise. "We have got to do a lot more research and we've got to develop a national strategy to understand these numbers, what's causing it, what's behind them, and why the prevalence is so high," said Liz Feld, President of Autism Speaks. 

Some experts, including pediatric neurologist Max Wiznitzer, wonder if the cases identified in the new report reflect the true prevalence of autism. "Do they actually have a true autism spectrum disorder, or do they have other conditions that are impacting their social behavior and manifesting with some sort of repetitive behaviors or restricted activities," he said.

The CDC report finds most children are diagnosed after age four, although it can be identified much sooner. Zach was diagnosed at age 2. His mother, Jennifer, echoes what the experts say: early diagnosis is crucial because kids have a better chance of improving when therapies begin as early as possible. "To me, it made all the difference in the world. The services that he was able to access through early intervention," she said.

Autism is a lifelong condition, one that's affecting an increasing number of American families. The new report finds an increase in the number of children with higher intellectual abilities identified as having autism. Some experts say those kids may have slipped through the cracks previously if they were doing fine in school.

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