The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.

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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This prevalence, whether 1 in 59 or 1 in 40, is mind-boggling to me. When my son was diagnosed 40+ years ago I was told this condition occurred in 1 out of 7000 children. No one had ever heard of autism, including our pediatrician.

Fast forward about 20 years and the statistic was said to be 1 in 1000. And now, roughly two percent of all children! Sure it isn’t solely because of greater recognition of a long-standing condition. I have to wonder what environmental changes may be at least partly responsible.

We have chemical waste dumping in our water, chemical waste dumping on our land, chemical waste dumping in our air, numerous injections of heavy metals into our children and we still wonder why our children are sicker, our life span is shorter and we have a high infant mortality rate compared to other advanced countries in the world.

I think going forward that carrying cell phones on the body, night time exposure when phones are charged in close proximity to the body, etc. are going to have neurological impact. Kaiser Foundation has already discerned, in their recent study, that miscarriages have tripled under these kinds of conditions. I wonder if there are any studies related to autism, particularly as it might affect the unborn and young children. Electromagnetic energy and its effect on the body is an area where we need more study and information.

I have a 3 year old grandson and he doesn’t talk and has many episodes of screaming. Of course my daughter is on state insurance and has been addressing this since before he was 2. The doctor in this area was almost a year out for appointments. Is this going to affect him by not getting help sooner?

Fifty or so years ago autism was almost unheard of. One major change is childbearing practices. Children bonded with full time mothers not placed in childcare where bonding to another human is less certain. Learning that others are responsive is critical to the ability to relate to other people in later life. There are critical periods for this emotional bonding that when passed are difficult perhaps impossible to correct. It is well known in dog behavior that if the puppy does not bond with humans then when grown the dog is indifferent to human attention. That is why service dogs are placed with human families as puppies before training is initiated. If true for animals doubly true for humans.

The case for lack of mother/child bonding as a cause for AS (ala Bruno Bettelheim) was discredited decades ago.

You find what you look for. Ever wonder why certain conditions suddenly arise or increase? Just thinking.

Considering the intricate complexities of the human neurological system it would appear to me that the “Autism Spectrum” is not a state of sickness, but a portion of the curve on the range of complexities. That is to say, the vast interactions of the nervous system might be thought of as a continuation of intertwining activities and “wiring” with the AS as a portion of the entirety that is somewhere within the range of the continuous functioning of the system as a whole. Please note that I am NOT saying that it is not an ailment but, as a span of the brain that is malfunctioning. And as such, IS as much a dis-ease as any other ailment and is to be given our whole-hearted attention and treatment efforts.

Hi, there. Am not convinced regarding pollution. Parents are really confused because there isn’t one definite reason for these disorders. There are many reasons, so we think ,but parents are still not told what definitely happens in the womb. Best wishes to parents with autistic children and hope that one day we will know the reason.

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