The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) published new data
on March 30, 2012, showing that 1 in 88 children -- or 1.13 percent of
U.S. children -- has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
This represents a 23 percent increase in the past two years.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) understands how concerning
these numbers are to parents. Pediatricians know parents want answers
about what causes autism, and so do the AAP and the pediatricians who
care for children with autism every day. Some of the increase may be due
to how children are diagnosed and treated in their communities. There
also may be a true rise in incidence. To understand more, the scientific
community must accelerate the research to understand what is putting
children at risk for this disorder.
Science has shown there is a clear genetic component to ASD.
Scientists are also studying many of the changes in our environment over
the past two decades that may interact with genes to increase a
person’s risk of developing symptoms of autism. Large epidemiologic
studies, such as the National Children’s Study, funded by the National
Institutes of Health, will be able to track what children are exposed to
and their likelihood of developing autism, which will give some
One exposure that has been extensively studied is vaccines. The AAP
wants to reassure parents that all signs show no link between vaccines
and autism. Many studies have looked at this, and none has found a link.
Parents who have questions about vaccines are encouraged to talk with
their child’s pediatrician, who can provide scientifically validated
information about immunizations.
The AAP recommends that all children be screened for autism at 18 and
24 months of age. The sooner autism is identified, the sooner an
intervention program can start. If you are concerned about how your
child plays, learns, speaks or acts, talk with your pediatrician. At the
same time, call your state’s public early childhood system to request a
free evaluation to find out if your child qualifies for intervention
services. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or medical
diagnosis. Research shows that early intervention services can greatly
improve a child’s development.
It’s important to collect data on the prevalence of autism, like this
study does. Knowing how many children are affected enables communities
to plan and allocate their resources so children can receive the
therapies and services they need. It also helps target limited research
dollars. Years ago, only a few scientists were looking at autism. Now,
many researchers and organizations are dedicated to answering questions
about autism. The AAP advocates for continued funding of research into
the causes of autism spectrum disorder and successful interventions for
children who are diagnosed. The AAP is committed to providing
pediatricians the tools and training they need to help children
identified through screening to obtain appropriate services and provide
medical management. Federal programs need to continue to support
postgraduate training of developmental experts to meet the need for an
increasing number of diagnostic evaluations.
Resources for Pediatricians:
Autism Prevalence Speaking Points
Autism Diagnosis and Management Speaking Points
Resources for Parents:
Sound Advice on Autism from the American Academy of Pediatrics
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Is it Autism?