On December 18, 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their national autism prevalence report. The most important and shocking fact confirmed in the report is that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the United States is now 1 percent of the population, or one in 110 of children 8 years of age in 2006, a 57 percent increase in 4 years. The Autism Society of America has been talking about this increase in the prevalence of autism for years, but it is only now, for the first time ever, that the government is also acknowledging the real increase in autism and validating the impact this condition has on individuals, families and their communities.
Early identification and intervention is of critical importance, because autism symptoms are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, and therefore the continued lag in identification needs to be addressed as a public health concern so that children in the U.S. receive optimal early intervention services. Children in 2006 were being diagnosed only five months earlier on average than those in 2002, thus still missing the critical years of early intervention. Increases in prevalence among minority population were significant, with a 91 percent increase in Hispanic children and 41 percent in black non-Hispanic. There was a 55 percent increase in White non-Hispanic. Also, prevalence in boys was found to be 4.5 times higher in males than females. The report states one in 70 boys and one in 315 females have autism. The increasing numbers have long-term economic costs to the country, as autism is a chronic medical condition affecting people across the lifespan.
The Autism Society calls on the U.S. government to address the pressing need for community-based services to ensure a better quality of life for people with autism and their families and to increase funding for research into what factors put people at risk and treatments that will mitigate the severest medical symptoms affecting people with this chronic medical condition. Lee Grossman, Autism Society President and CEO has wondered about the government’s response time to this important problem: “The question still remains: How bad does it have to get before families receive appropriate lifespan services?”