The debate about increasing autism numbers

A new study has found that the number of children diagnosed with autism is on the rise. In the past few years, there has been a significant jump in the number of children diagnosed with autism — currently at one in 88 children.

Which way are the numbers really going? Graphic by Caitlin Lewis.

The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was conducted by looking at children in 14 states. Researchers did not meet these children; instead they drew their information from existing diagnoses. The state with the highest prevalence of reported autism cases was Utah, where one in 47 children had been diagnosed with the disorder.

The new studies’ findings that one in 88 children suffer from autism by age 9 is up from one in 110 from 2010. When compared with one in 155 from 2002, it is difficult not to see a trend of increasing cases of autism among children. These statistics look at children on the autism spectrum including individuals with Asperger Syndrome and other forms of minor autism, along with extremely severe cases.

For decades, the number of children diagnosed with autism has been on a steady rise. The issue is that no one can seem to agree on whether this is a result of improved diagnostics or if there are just more cases of autism.

One side of the debate argues that since the condition is now better understood, teachers and others who deal with children on a daily basis know what to look for when spotting signs of autism. Such signs are problems with communication, social interaction and behavior. Teachers and school counselors are frequently the first to identify children that may have autism. This side would also contend that since parents with autistic children receive a degree of federal aid that many of these diagnoses are forced.

The other side of this debate, until recently, was citing vaccinations as a possible cause for the increase in autism in children. This side of the argument is certain that the increasing number of autistic children is the result of some indeterminable environmental influence.

While this debate continues, those who are working on the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have announced major plans to redefine the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. This would mean that a higher functioning autistic person may no longer fall on to what is seen as the autistic end of the diagnostic spectrum.

All the study manages to prove was what many already knew or suspected: autism rates are on the rise, and while there are some theories as to the causes of increased numbers, no one has hard evidence as to the why or how. Autism is a serious condition, and while this study did nothing but confirm what many had already suspected, it does give researchers an idea of the increasing prevalence of the condition.