More and more children are getting diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder across the United States in the past several years.
Researchers are now working to get more valuable insight about the developmental condition and its increased rate.
One out of every 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism, which is equivalent to an autism rate of 1.7 percent of the childhood population in the country, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The report, which came from data of 4-year-old children in various states, points to a significant increase in autism cases — and researchers can't say exactly why.
New Jersey's Autism Rate Is The Nation's Highest
Out of the seven states involved in the study, New Jersey has the highest rate of autism with one in 35 children with the condition, an autism rate of 3 percent.
The study authors point out that New Jersey is known for their excellent clinical and educational services for the autism. This means that their autism rates are likely more accurate and complete, which accounts for their higher-than-average autism rate.
Walter Zahorodny of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School led the New Jersey portion of the study and describes the findings as consistent and surprising in a press release. He believes that it's likely to see the autism rate soar even higher the next time researchers measure children.
The Importance Of Early Detection
Children whose autism are diagnosed early on in life, just around the second birthday, are found to have a better response to treatment compared to those who are diagnosed later.
Unfortunately, the only children at the moment who are being evaluated for autism within this crucial window are the ones with the most serious cases. Late detection means that their treatment is getting delayed as well.
For now, Zahorodny says that people are more aware of autism, but early detection is still effective yet.
The average age of diagnosis is still 53 months, which is how it's been in the past 15 years.
Zahorodny and the rest of the team are encouraging the enhancement of the early screening of autism, preferably when a child is from 18 to 24 months old, as he tells Gizmodo.
What Is Causing This Increase?
Researchers are unable to identify what caused the surge of autism throughout the country. Various factors have been identified, such as advanced age of parents, mothers' illness during pregnancy, genetic mutations, birth before hitting 37 weeks, and multiple births.
However, Zahorodny says these factors aren't sufficient to explain the rising rate of autism prevalence.
"There are still undefined environmental risks that contribute to this significant increase, factors that could affect a child in its development in utero or related to birth complications or to the newborn period," Zahorodny says, adding that there needs to be more research done into autism's non-genetic triggers.