In a survey sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as reported by David Brown of Health & Science, the latest evidence states that about 1 in 88 children in the United States has autism and the prevalence of the condition has risen nearly 80 percent over the past decade.
Children with the most extreme form of autism are socially withdrawn, speak little, dislike affection and eye contact, and engage in repetitive actions. Asperger syndrome, a milder form of autism, describes behavior that in the past might have been seen as peculiar and abnormal but not evidence of illness.Autism is five times as common in boys as girls. The fraction of children with autism with average or above-average intelligence has risen more than the fraction with “intellectual disability.” Such variation suggests that better identification of autism cases contributes to the higher number, but whether it explains the trend completely is a matter of huge debate.“This is the billion-dollar question, isn’t it?” said Li-Ching Lee, an epidemiologist who headed the survey.What’s not a matter of debate, is that autism is common and that doctors and teachers need to find children with it earlier, when treatment is most effective.
“There are many children and families who need help. There are many children who are not receiving services early enough or consistently enough,” Thomas R. Frieden, CDC’s director said.
Autism often has catastrophic effects on families, and treatment requires time, skill and extreme patience. Medical expenses for children with autism are six times as high as those for children without the disorder. Behavioral therapy, often delivered one-on-one, can cost as much as $60,000 per year. The Autism Speaks advocacy group estimates autism spectrum disorders costs the United States $137 billion a year.