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How Common Is Autism?

Learn how many children are diagnosed with autism from pediatrician and child development expert Asma J. Sadiq, M.D. in this Howcast video.


So how common is autism? This is a very interesting and controversial subject and a lot in the media, there's concern that the diagnosis of autism has substantially increased. The present data is one in 88 of our children are being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and this is really a global statistic.

There are differences in difference areas. For example, in areas in New Jersey, there was a diagnosed of one in 49. Recent C.D.C. telephone-based survey of parents reported that one in 50 homes had a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Now that's not the best way to analyze it, but these are prevalence studies. There is concern that we are overdiagnosing this or is there truly an increase and that debate is ongoing.

There has been a change in the diagnostic criteria that has taken place between the D.S.M. IV and the D.S.M. V, and that is now going to change some of the prevalence data because of the way we diagnose these children. There is controversy that we are over diagnosing children with autism spectrum in the sense that a lot of neurologic diagnosis, for example, the Rett syndrome has been included or children who were previously not diagnosed like Asperger's or high functioning autism are now being included because we have widened the spectrum of the diagnostic criteria.

However, the other side is the areas which have higher incidence of autism being diagnosed. For example, a Somali population that came and settled in Canada picked up an increased incidence of autism compared to even the area around. So was there genetic tendencies or snips, for example, or differences that with environmental triggers caused an issue and an increase or there something in the family that we have these cohort of people coming in?

So there is a lot of concern about true increase in the incidence of autism and a lot more studies need to be done. One in 88 of our children being diagnosed is often son. With the new diagnostic criteria of the D.S.M. V, they’re going to be new studies that are needed to see what the trajectory is and what it is in different areas, because now we have a social communication disorder which has actually been removed from the diagnostic criteria. Similarly Rett’s which only occurs in girls as a neurologic condition has also been removed from the diagnostic criteria.

Prevalence is important for us to address this increase that we are seeing, it's because we are going to need a lot more services and a lot more support for families.

So whether that the understanding, whether it's overdiagnosis or truly an increase in the incidence in prevalence of autism, the reality is the present data is one in 88 of children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Whichever side of the controversy that you fall on whether you believe it is increase in prevalence because of increase in diagnostic criteria or you think there's truly an increased in incidence, we are still researching that but the truth is we need more services and resources for the children and for their families.

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