An increasing number of American children are getting diagnosed of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a developmental condition that affects a child's ability to communicate and socialize with others.
Two years ago, it was estimated that one in 88 children in the U.S. has the condition but a new report released by federal health officials on Thursday shows that one in 68 children now gets diagnosed of autism, a 30 percent jump from the previous estimate.
The new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years - Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2010," was based on data that examined autism diagnoses of 8-year olds in 11 states.
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities director Coleen Boyle explained that the focus was on 8-year old children because those with ASD are often already diagnosed of the condition by this age.
Just like with earlier studies, CDC researchers found autism to be more prevalent in boys than in girls. White children also have up to 50 percent increased likelihood of getting diagnosed with autism than black or Hispanic children. Diagnosis of the condition also appears to be more common in New Jersey were one in 45 children get diagnosed of the disorder compared to 1 in 175 in Alabama.
Although the new report may appear to suggest that the prevalence of autism in the U.S. has increased, it is also possible that it shows that health care providers are already doing a better job at diagnosing children with the disorder.
"It could be a combination of better recognition and increased prevalence," Boyle said. "Our system tells us what's going on. It only gives us clues about the why."
The CDC study has likewise found that most of the children with autism were diagnosed after they reached the age of four despite that diagnosis of the condition can be done as early as two years of age.
"We need to push the frontier of diagnosis down to the earliest ages we can," said Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinical and Research Program medical director Melissa Nishawala. "The earlier we intervene, the more we can do to help nudge those brain pathways closer and closer to normal."
In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this week, researchers found that the nature of the anomalies in the brain of autistic children suggests it is possible to rewire their developing brain underscoring the importance of early identification and intervention in children with autism.