A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on March 30 announced that 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, by age 8, reflecting a dramatic increase in diagnoses in the past decade.
The CDC Web site includes not only the full report but also a summary page that provides an overview of the findings on prevalence, risk factors and characteristics, diagnosis, and economic costs. Some highlights:
- About 1 in 88 children has been identified with an ASD, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
- ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
- ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).
- Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with an ASD with an average prevalence of about 1%. A recent study in South Korea reported a prevalence of 2.6%.
- About 1 in 6 children in the U.S. has a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech impairments to serious developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism.
With this news, more parents, educators, and medical professionals may be wondering whether a growing environmental threat could be the source of the problem. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Alan Zarembo, however, gives voice to another perspective. “Autism researchers around the country said the CDC data—including striking geographic and racial variations in the rates and how they have changed—suggest that rising awareness of the disorder, better detection, and improved access to services can explain much of the surge, and perhaps all of it,” according to Zarembo.
One thing is clear: autism spectrum disorders are affecting a growing number of families. Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, sums up the reaction of many in the autism community: “With the new [CDC] numbers now showing that 1 in 88 children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism—nearly a doubling of the prevalence since the CDC began tracking these numbers—autism can now officially be declared an epidemic in the United States.”
ASDs have touched the lives of many of us at PAR, as well, and we are committed to supporting research and services in our community to help families dealing with autism. On April 21, PAR staff members will be participating in the 2012 “Walk Now for Autism Speaks: Tampa Bay.” This annual event brings together “Team PAR” with thousands of other local autism supporters to raise funds for autism research. Last year, PAR was one of the top fundraisers for the Tampa Bay area—a record we hope to top this year!
According to an eleven-year-long study by a group of Canadian researchers, it appears that the youngest students in a class are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than peers born at other points in the year.
The study, conducted by University of British Columbia researchers and headed up health research analyst Richard Morrow, finds that children born the month of the school’s cut-off date were more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than those born just a month later. After studying nearly 930,000 children in British Columbia, which has a cut-off date for enrollment of December 31, it was found that boys born in December were 30 percent more likely to be given an ADHD diagnosis than those born in January. Girls with December birthdays were 70 percent more likely to receive this diagnosis than those born in January. Furthermore, boys and girls with December birthdays were 41 percent and 77 percent more likely, respectively, to be treated with prescription medication for ADHD than those born the following month.
While researchers believe their analyses show a relative-age effect in the diagnosis and treatment of children age 6-12 years, they warn that these findings raise concerns about the potential for overdiagnosis and overprescribing in the youngest students because the lack of maturity in younger students may be misinterpreted as symptoms of ADHD. ADHD is currently the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder in children.
For more information on this study, visit the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Broader Definition of the Disease Could Help Doctors with Early Diagnosis and Intervention
In April of this year, the National Institutes of Health and the Alzheimer’s Association announced significant changes in the clinical diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer’s disease dementia. These revisions—the first in 27 years—are intended to help diagnose patients in the very early stages of the disease, allowing doctors to prescribe medication when it is most effective; that is, before a patient’s memory becomes compromised.
The new guidelines recognize two early stages of the disease: preclinical Alzheimer’s, in which biochemical and physiological changes caused by the disease have begun; and mild cognitive impairment, a stage marked by memory problems severe enough to be noticed and measured, but not severe enough to compromise a person’s independence. The new guidelines also reflect the increased knowledge scientists have about Alzheimer’s, including a better understanding of the biological changes that occur and the development of new tools that allow early diagnosis.
William H. Thies, chief scientific and medical officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, explains, “If we start 10 years earlier and could push off the appearance of dementia by, say, five years … that could cut the number of demented people in the U.S. by half” (Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2011).
For more information about the updated guidelines, as well as a list of journal articles and answers to frequently asked questions for clinicians, visit the National Institute on Aging Web site at http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers/Resources/diagnosticguidelines.htm.