CHICAGO — About 1 in 100 8-year-old children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers who will released details of their study later this year.
The rate — significantly higher than the government's 2007 estimate of 1 in 150 — is sure to make waves in the world of autism and beyond, prompting advocates and researchers to call for more research and more funding for services.
Calling autism "an urgent public health concern," CDC Deputy Director Ileana Arias said the agency considers the disorder "a significant issue that needs immediate attention."
But researchers cautioned that the higher rate might not mean that more kids have autism spectrum disorder.
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"It is not entirely clear what (the) increase is due to," said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "It is not clear more children are affected rather than just changes in our ability to detect."
The rate, calculated by reviewing records in communities across the U.S., echoes findings of a national telephone survey of parents that is being published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
The survey, conducted by the CDC and the Health Resources and Services Administration, asked parents of 78,000 children ages 3 to 17 whether a health care worker or doctor had ever told them their child had autism spectrum disorder.
Autism has no known cause and no cure. Scientists think it may be many distinct problems that manifest themselves similarly. Children afflicted often have trouble communicating and socializing, and can exhibit repetitive, rigid behavior.
Diagnosing autism relies on observation, behavioral checklists and expert assessment rather than lab tests or X-rays, making it hard to determine how common it is.