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Autism Rates Among American Kids Rising, Says Survey: What Parents Should Know

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Almost one in every 45 children in the United States suffers from a condition known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a new study finds.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have discovered an increase in the number of young children with ASD after updating the questions used to survey parents.

Dr. Glen Elliott, a psychiatrist at the Children's Health Council, explained that the findings point to the importance of understanding how an individual asks a question during these types of surveys.

"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," he said.

Elliott added that it is the distribution among these three groups that has actually changed.

In the CDC survey conducted in 2014, agency officials asked more than 11,000 American families regarding the status of a child in their household between 3 years old and 17 years old.

They asked the parents if a health care provider has ever informed them that their child had developmental conditions such as ASD, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), Asperger's disorder or autism.

The researchers discovered that about 2 percent of parents participating in the study answered yes. This is equivalent to about one in every 45 American children.

In earlier studies, similar numbers of parents were asked whether a health professional had informed them that their child suffered from any conditions mentioned in a long list of health issues, including ASD, Down syndrome, arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions and cerebral palsy.

Findings from these previous surveys showed that close to 1.25 percent of participants said their child had ASD which, according to the CDC, is equivalent to about one in every 80 American children.

Child development expert Dr. Andrew Adesman from the Cohen Children's Medical Center pointed out that the CDC has only recently included Asperger's disorder in its list of survey questions.

The condition was left out from the DSM, the manual used by all clinicians in diagnosing disorders, when it was revised in 2013.

Adesman said the ironic thing about it is that researchers did not ask about Asperger's disorder when it was considered an official diagnosis, but now that it is no longer an approved diagnosis, CDC officials are asking parents about it.

Dr. Danelle Fisher of the Providence Saint John's Health Center said ASD has often been used as a general term to identify children with social and language disabilities. The development of specific definitions in recent decades has allowed doctors to understand the different needs and treatments required for children.

"A child with autism may have different symptoms than one with pervasive developmental disorder, who may be different than one with Asperger's," Fisher explained.

"Treatment may differ or be similar depending on the characteristics observed in each child."

Fisher added that what has remained constant is the need for timely intervention to help ensure that children achieve their full potential.

Signs Your Child May Have Autism

Individuals with autism typically do not have any physical traits that may set them apart from those that do not have the disability. However, sufferers may learn, behave, communicate and interact differently from other people.

Here are some common red flags that your child may have autism spectrum disorder:

1. Not responding to being called by name by 12 months old

2. Not being able to point at objects to indicate interest by 14 months old

3. Not being able play "pretend" games such as feeding a doll by 18 months old

Other behavioral and communicative issues your child may show include:

1. Avoiding eye contact with others and preferring to be alone most of the time

2. Flapping their hands, spinning in circles or rocking their body

3. Having difficulties in their speech and language skills

4. Manifesting echolalia or repeating words or phrases over and over

5. Having difficulties in understanding the feelings of others and talking about their own feelings

6. Giving answers that are unrelated to questions

7. Having interests that can be considered obsessive

8. Getting upset by minor changes

9. Having unusual reactions to the smell, taste, sound, look or feel of things around them

Difficulties in Developing Social Skills

ASD sufferers often find it difficult to interact with other people. Their social issues, however, differ from most people's in that their struggles tend to cause serious repercussions in their everyday lives.

Symptoms of these difficulties include:

1. Not being able to respond to their name by 12 months old

2. Preferring to play alone

3. Avoiding eye contact with other people

4. Not being able to share interests with others

5. Having flat or inappropriate facial expressions

6. Only interacting with others to achieve a certain desired goal

7. Having difficulty in understanding the boundaries of personal space

8. Avoiding physical contact with others

9. Not being able to be comforted by other people during distress

10. Having difficulty in understanding the feelings of other people or talking about their own feelings

Difficulties in Developing Communication Skills

When it comes to their communication, people with ASD have varying levels of competency in speaking to others. While some individuals have shown the ability to speak well, others may only be able to speak very little or none at all.

About 40 percent of children born with autism spectrum disorder do not speak, while about 25 to 30 percent are able to speak some words at 12 months old to 18 months old but lose them later on.

Other ASD sufferers may be able to speak but only when they reach the later stages of their childhood.

Communication problems associated with ASD include:

1. Having delayed language and speech skills

2. Reversing the use of pronouns

3. Manifesting echolalia or repeating words or phrases over and over

4. Talking in a robot-like or sing-song voice

5. Giving answers that are unrelated to questions

6. Having difficulty in pointing to or responding to pointing by others

7. Preferring to use few or no gestures such as waving goodbye to others

8. Not being able to play "pretend" games such as feeding a doll

9. Having difficulty in understanding teasing, sarcasm or jokes from others

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