New results from the CDC show a significant increase in the number of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Numbers are up 30 percent from only two years ago. According to the study that looked at 8-year-olds in 11 states, boys are 4-1/2 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. Rates of diagnosis changed depending on a child's race and ethnicity, with white children significantly more likely to be diagnosed. Autism rates among children without intellectual disabilities also increased.
Don't panic. More than anything else, these results have made it clear that the U.S. needs better standards of diagnosis, better recognition of symptoms and more access to services. Kids in some states had much higher rates of autism than other states. Two kids with similar symptoms could be diagnosed and treated completely differently depending on doctors' attitudes, local services or socioeconomic disparities. While an increase may mean that fewer kids are slipping through the cracks, it's still not enough — especially when race and ethnicity appear to factor into whether or not a child is diagnosed and given access to services.
Early diagnosis is considered a major tool when it comes to helping kids on the spectrum succeed. The CDC's results showed that the median age of diagnosis was around 4-1/2. Many children with autism can be diagnosed much closer to the age of 2. Parents, caretakers, schools and doctors need better systems in place to diagnose kids while they are young and well-suited for interventions. Autism interventions don't cure autism, but many services can help kids handle difficulties — such as speech and language deficits — associated with autism spectrum disorders. Better diagnostic techniques and equal access to services such as behavior therapy and physical therapy, will give all children on the spectrum opportunities to succeed and lead fulfilling lives.
Whether your child is on the spectrum or not, pay attention to legislation related to autism research, health care and services. That one child out of 68 kids could be your child's classmate, your neighbor's kid or your own son or daughter. We need to embrace autism as a community.
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