By Ethan Colbert
As many as 1 in 40 U.S. children have been diagnosed with autism, showing a dramatic increase of 150 percent from 2000 when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the rate of diagnosis in the country was 1 in 150 children.
These latest figures come from parents of 50,000 children nationwide who competed the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health.
Researchers estimate that 1.5 million American children, ages 3 to 17, have been diagnosed with autism.
“It is difficult to pin down an exact number. We don’t have a biological marker for autism,” said Michael Kogan of the Health Resources and Services Administration. Kogan served as the lead author on the new report in the journal, Pediatrics.
According to Bowling Green R-I School District’s Special Education Director Janese Bibb, Autism is a difficult diagnosis to explain as it covers a wide spectrum.
“Probably one of the best examples I can give that are the most prominent is that some kiddos have to hit on one of four or five things,” Bibb said. “When I say hit on, I mean that they are lacking in these areas.”
According to Bibb, the possible symptoms of autism range from language issues where children are not as communicative as their peers, social issues where children struggle forming relationships, or behavioral issues.
In her interview with the Bowling Green Times, Bibb said that she believes the numbers reflected in the national survey and from the CDC as accurate.
In April, the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network that autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children based on medical and educational records of thousands of 8-year-olds from across the country.
Closer to home, Bibb said close to 1 out of 80 students within the Bowling Green R-I School District are currently diagnosed with autism.
This number shows a small, but significant increase, from 2013, when there were four or five students diagnosed with autism, according to Bibb.
“Our numbers of students who have been diagnosed with autism has increased, not dramatically, but they have increased,” Bibb said.
The local school district official said that communities will likely continue to see the numbers of students or individuals diagnosed with autism continue to increase.
“Parents are being very proactive,” Bibb said. “They are detecting some sort of language delay early on that they don’t see other children having. Or they are sensing some other kind of delay that they don’t see in other children.”
She added later, “The parents of these children are not looking for a diagnosis, they are looking for answers. They simply want to know.”
Dr. John Constantino of Washington University, and one of the authors of the CDC report, said he too expects to see the autism rate stay fairly steady going forward in all of the different accounting methods.
If the rate of autism does continue to rise, there may need to be some change in how the disorder is defined, according to Constantino.
Pointing to rates for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which are widely believed by the public to be artificially inflated, Constantino said overdiagnosis “can compromise the validity or meaning of a diagnosis.”
In the meantime, the Bibb said she would encourage community members to become well-versed in how to communicate with individuals who have been diagnosed with autism.
She says one of best tips is to “talk to them and greet them like you would anyone else.”