Did autism rates just double?

A chill went down my spine when I saw this headline – apparently the new National Survey of Children’s Health, last conducted in 2003, has now set the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders at 1 out of every 91 children (up to now the conventional prevalence statistic has been 1 in 150).

The study is published in the newest issue of Pediatrics, a respected peer-reviewed scientific journal, and is based on surveys of 78,000 parents on the health of their children by government researchers.

I don’t really question that the researchers found a much higher prevalence, but I do have questions about whether more cases are being identified on the milder side of the spectrum. I’m personally convinced there is more autism generally, but that at least some portion –maybe the biggest portion–of the increase is due to a broader definition of what constitutes an autism spectrum disorder. For example, many adults who today say they have Asperger’s Disorder would not have been diagnosed as having autism when they were children.

I haven’t had a chance to read the full journal article but will weigh back in on this when I do.


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