Cases of Autism in the USA Increase by 30% in Two Years

Two children with autism play in their school in Virginia. / AFP

Two children with autism play in their school in Virginia. / AFP

The number of children on the autism spectrum – Autism, Asperger, and atypical development disorder – continues to rise in America. If two years ago, one in 88 children was suffering from the disease, it is now one in 68 who suffer, which is an increase of 30%, as reported on Thursday by the Center for Prevention and Disease Control USA. These disorders are affecting more boys, one in 42, 4.5 times more than girls.

The incidence of autism varies from state to state. While in Alabama one in 175 suffers, one in 45 suffers in New Jersey, the highest count, the agency added. Experts relate the increase in cases to improved diagnostic techniques in recent years or “previously we lacked the skills needed to recognize it.” “10 years ago very little was known of this disease”, experts have pointed out.

“We studied all the features of autism in 5,300 children eight years old (born in 2002) from 11 states-Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin, Alabama and New Jersey-” , said Coleen Boyle, director of the Department of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities of the CDC. “We analyzed the age at which the disorder is diagnosed; under what conditions it was made, and whether there were other developmental or intellectual disabilities involved,” added Boyle.

The most notable increase, continue to experts, has occurred among children with an IQ of 85 (normal) or less. About half of the children with autism spectrum disorder have this IQ level, compared with a third who suffered a decade ago.

“I do not know why this increase has occurred, the study was done to know the cause, but we believe it is due to new diagnostic techniques that facilitate the identification,” added Boyle. “We evaluated each case individually and we ensured they meet the definition of autism,” Boyle continued.

The CDC defines autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities that cause significant delays in social, communicative and behavioral skills. Often accompanied by repetitive and stereotyped movements. There is no cure but behavioral, cognitive and social therapies have improved a lot, especially in recent years. “Although we have to keep improving,” the expert added. Scientists say the disease has a strong genetic factor, but that does not explain everything.

Possessing better diagnostic techniques does not explain why the disease occurs and many researchers are focusing their testing during pregnancy: having the flu in early months could play a role in the development of the disease, or it may be that the brain of fetuses with disease differs from the normal population, among others. Also, several studies have concluded that parental age is a risk factor: older equals more danger.

“What has not changed,” continued the expert, “is that children are being diagnosed too late.” According to the report, the average age is four years, “despite the fact that autism can be diagnosed from the age of two.” “The sooner you identify it, the more opportunities there are to improve the difficulties of the disorder.”

Every two years, the CDC reviews autism cases in various communities. From 2000 to 2002, 1 in 150 children eight years old suffered; two years later, one in 110; in 2008 the data indicated that 1 in 88 children suffered from autism spectrum disorder in the United States. According to the results on Thursday, “1.2 million children under 18 live with this disorder in the country,” concluded Boyle.

The Voice of Autism


why_i_jump_illustrationAt age 13, Naoki Higashida managed to break his isolation. This Japanese teenager suffers from a type of severe autism that kept him in near solitary confinement. But a simple system devised by his mother (a symbol table, as an alphabet which could point out the letters of the words or symbols that he most frequently wanted to transmit) allowed him, finally, to have its own voice. The result is this shocking book, between diary and essay, in which Higashida gives voice, for the first time, to a person with a situation as complex as his.

Why do I jump? It is one of the 53 questions that, with a simple and direct language Higashida responds in the book. The others include the entire series of clichés and stereotypes about people with autism (why I like water?, why I repeat movements?, how important is routine?, why is it hard to look at the eyes?, etc). And the result is a view completely remote from the common belief: with pain-”really, never give you account of how unhappy we are”-, hope-”Please keep helping us to the end” – ingenuity-”find pleasure in one thing that probably do not entertains you: make us friends of nature”-, the young author comes across as a person who does not want to be infantilized or ignored, aware that he is different, and who exposes his frustration at knowing that it is a complication of his happiness and, most importantly, that of those around him. Somehow, it is like discovering a secret pyramid inside, or as opening an oyster for the first time or decrypting a secret code.

The book can be simply a read, a manual for parents and a guide for teachers and researchers. It is revealing, for example, when Higashida tells about the frustration caused by the calendars with images that are used in many centers to try to instill a routine in people who have altered space and time controls – he warns that it is better that, with patience, they are explained orally, since so the alterations shock will not be so great.

Given the breadth of what has been agreed to call the autism spectrum, it is difficult to extrapolate what the author accounts. But the tone is mostly optimistic, as a signal to encourage parents of children with autism to look for ways to break the shell that surrounds them, without them wanting. This implies the possibility of a frustration at those who do not succeed, but it is a sobering possibility.

The book, also, sandwiched a series of small stories among the questions. Only the last one has a length of more than one page. An allegory about death and reincarnation – do people with autism feel as the ghost who tries to contact his mother unsuccessfully?-a narrative complexity that surprises with respect to the rest of the book. “The first thing to discover is how you live when you’re dead,” says the author. When one is dead for the others, we should point out. Because the young author, who is now 20 years old, has proven to be well alive.