A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2014 about 1 in 45 children in the United States had an autism spectrum disorder.
Researchers collected the data from the new report by interviewing parents about their children during the annual National Health Interview Survey, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The previous estimate from the CDC survey, called the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network – that gathered data from the kids’ medical records in 2010 – showed that 1 in 68 children had an autism spectrum disorder.
Although the new report may suggest that autism spectrum disorder increased among children in the United States (1 in 45), researchers say that the previous survey may not have been as accurate due to several reasons.
Robert Fitzgerald, an epidemiologist in psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said that one reason could be that parents and health care providers are more aware of the condition, thus more children who have an autism spectrum disorder are identified nowadays.
Also, in previous years, autism spectrum disorders were sometimes labelled as ‘intellectual disabilities’, and the stigma attached to autism has also decreased, Fitzgerald added.
For the new report, the researchers interviewed almost 12,000 parents – who had children ages 3 to 17 – in the United States in 2014, and approximately 11,000 parents whom they interviewed annually from 2011 to 2013.
Between 2011 and 2013, the rate of autism spectrum disorder was 1 in 80 children, a lot lower than that found in 2014.
However Benjamin Zablotsky, an epidemiologist in the Division of Health Interview Statistics at the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland said that the drastic change occurred because the researchers changed the way they collected the information.
In the 2014 interviews, the first question was whether a health professional or a doctor told the parents that their child had mental retardation, also known as intellectual disability, and the second question was whether a doctor told them that their child had autism, persuasive development disorder, Asperger syndrome (AS), or autism spectrum disorder.
The 2011 to 2013 survey had a similar first question, but the second question was about other development delays and not about autism.
Putting the stand-alone autism spectrum disorder question second resulted in an increased rate of ASD in the 2014 data, and lower rates of other development delays, compared with the 2011 – 2013 survey.
Fitzgerald agrees that the gap between the first and second study findings is likely to have occurred due to the way in which the researchers asked the question, rather than a real change in the rate of autism spectrum disorder among U.S. children.
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