CDC: Autism rate surges by 30%

One in 68 children has autism, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 30 percent rise over the estimate only two years ago. The “proportion of children with autism and higher IQ (is) on the rise,” said a CDC statement.

“It could be that doctors are getting better at identifying these children, there could be a growing number of children with high intelligence [who are autistic], or it could be both,” said Coleen Boyle director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a telephone news conference.

Autism rates vary by place. “Only one child in 175 was diagnosed with autism in Alabama, while one in 45 was found to have the disorder in New Jersey,” notes the Washington Post.

The CDC is encouraging parents to have young children screened for autism in their early years. I’d guess high-IQ parents already are doing that. 

Autism begins in pregnancy, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers discovered “focal patches of disrupted development” in cortical layers of the brain that are developed during pregnancy.  

The brain regions most affected were the frontal cortex, which is associated with complex communication and comprehension of social cues, and the temporal cortex, which is associated with language.

About Joanne


  1. Crimson Wife says:

    The scary thing is that this is based on kids my neurotypical oldest child’s age, and there are a LOT fewer of them with ASD than the ones my autistic youngest child’s age. And it’s not simply a matter of better diagnosis because these are kids who are noticeably impaired and would’ve been recognized as such a decade ago.

    Back when my oldest was a preschooler, we knew a single child with autism. Now I’ve got one of my own and we know several others (and I’m excluding the ones we know as a result of my youngest having ASD).

    • Don’t pull the covers over your head just yet.

      There’s no objective test for autism and, indeed, no understanding of its cause.

      It’s not known whether it’s one condition or multiple conditions which present in a similar enough manner to be brushed under the “autism” umbrella. It’s not known whether it’s genetic, due to in utero exposure, postpartum exposure or some combination of predisposition and environmental exposure. Or all of the above.

      Without a cause there’s no way to determine whether the increase is real or due to the convenience of having a condition du jour.

      Remember when aluminum cookware was blamed for causing Alzheimer’s?

  2. This does not affect the more-recent increases, but when I visited the state facility for the cognitively impaired, very early in the 70s, there were many kids who would be called severely autistic today but were then simply called retarded. BTW, even though institutions have been demonized and shut down since then, that facility was decently run and the staff were both hard-working and caring. They tried to maximize the kids’ capabilities. That was also true at the state psych hospital, where I briefly worked. Both situations were far better than living on the streets, as many now do.

  3. Good call-out Joanne. I heard about this news today and I found it interesting.
    I have to wonder if the CDC has taken into consideration that the autism “spectrum” is much larger (by medical standards) than it used to be. Doctors and psychologists may be quick to diagnose autism because it recently was widened to include a number of other conditions, such as ADHD and Asperger’s. I’m worried that any child with a learning disorder may be labeled as “autistic” and therefore placed in a different area of our society, much like momof4’s point regarding “retarded” children in the previous century.

  4. I recently saw a study linking autism-like symptoms in mice with changes in gut bacteria. If some percentage of human autism diagnoses have a similar cause, I could imagine that you would see levels of ‘autism’ that vary widely by location and time. These might be caused by evnironmental factors like diet or antibiotic use and could account for the wildly different rates found in different places. If this theory pans out, it’s possible that some of the kids could be treated and then we’d be left with numbers that are more similar to what was seen in the past. Of course, there could also be epigenetic changes and mate selection differences that cause different rates in different populations.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    First, check for expanded diagnoses. Second, check for grants.
    Anything left over?

  6. There are a lot of changes in diagnostic criteria, and a lot of people I know who are autistic were previously diagnosed with something else. (Comorbidity with ADHD and social anxiety disorders is pretty high.)
    The main thing that worries me is that by far the largest and most notable “autism expert” that people turn to is Autism Speaks, an organization which is overtly hostile to autistic people, and devotes much of its time and money to propaganda demonizing them. Integration and accommodation (usually very minor accommodation) might be a good strategy. Certainly, most of us would rather be allowed to exist than removed from the population.

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    My youngest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s at 7. He attends a private school that specializes in educating high functioning autism/aspies. It pretty obvious that many of these kids would not have been diagnosed in prior generations; they’d have been labeled as the weird or strange kid. But, many of them will go on to nearly completely normal productive lives. They may require some additional support from family but are quite likely to be employed and contributing.

    My guess, many of those diagnosed are on the higher functioning end of the spectrum and are likely to live “normal” or nearly normal (whatever that means) lives.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      I’ll just add, my son turns 16 this summer. Our expectations are that he’ll go on to college and job/career. He has that naiveté that characterizes many aspies, and he’ll require some additional support from us, but I don’t anticipate a negative outcome and am, in fact, quite realistically hopeful.

      • My aspie nephew earned a computer science degree and is working as a programmer.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          Joanne – My oldest son took a online college course last summer. The instructor assigned a persuasive essay and provided a model for the students. You were the author of the model piece.