Two new government studies released today reports that autism spectrum disorders - ranging from high-functioning Asperger's to severe autism - affect 1 in 100 U.S. children. That's up from 1 in 150.
This is very much a "what" study, not a "why? or a "how?" one. The AP reports:
Greater awareness, broader definitions and spotting autism in younger children may explain some of the increase, federal health officials said.
''The concern here is that buried in these numbers is a true increase,'' said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. ''We're going to have to think very hard about what we're going to do for the 1 in 100.''
In one study, compiled from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, parents reported 1 in 91 children having autism. The other study, conducted by the CDC, hasn't been formally released yet but puts the figure around 1 in 100.
Autism continues to baffle doctors, alarm parents and muddy the waters of everyday parenting decisions: What's normal behavior? What's cause for concern? Should I vaccinate my child? Should I be worried about mercury (which, in high doses, is thought to be an environmental "trigger" for autism)?
Aside from the developmental effects, isn't the scariest thing about autism the uncertainty? There are many serious disorders that occur with alarming (though admittedly lower) frequency -- cerebral palsy (1 in 278), Down Syndrome (1 in 800), deafness (1 in 1000) -- but isn't it the clouds surrounding autism, the scientific puzzles and worried buzz in parenting circles, that makes autism stand out?