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How Common Is Autism Spectrum Disorder in the US?

A new survey of parents estimates that one child in 40 has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The rate in Canada is lower.
How Common Is Autism Spectrum Disorder in the US?
Professional child psychologist talking with child girl in office.

Is a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder becoming more common? Due to differences in past and current methodologies for diagnosing autism and measuring its prevalence, scientists can’t truly answer that question. However, results from the National Survey of Children’s Health reveals that roughly one in forty American youngsters has been diagnosed with autism (Pediatrics, online, Nov. 26, 2018).

Parents Reported on Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder:

There were 43,000 children between the ages of three and 17 covered by the survey. The new data show a higher incidence than the CDC uncovered from a different data set. That research indicated one child in 59 is on the autism spectrum. Experts conclude that autism spectrum disorder is common. As a result, early screening and treatment are more important than ever.

Prenatal Exposure to Pollution Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder:

A Canadian study found that children whose mothers exposed to air pollution during pregnancy were at higher risk for an autism diagnosis (JAMA Pediatrics, online Nov. 19, 2018). Doctors followed up on infants born in the city of Vancouver and its suburbs between 2004 and 2009. The youngsters were followed to 2014. In this study, 1,307 children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder out of a total of 132,256 kids in that birth cohort. That works out to one child in 100, less than half the rate reported above in the US. However, kids with prenatal exposure to high levels of nitric oxide (NO) were somewhat more likely to develop such a disorder.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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