Autism Diagnoses Are Growing in the United States

Joe Weinlick
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The number of children who are diagnosed with autism in the United States has grown by an estimated 30 percent since 2010. According to Coleen Boyle, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental Disorders, prior to research completed in 2010, children had a 1 in 88 chance of receiving an autism diagnosis. In 2014, that number is 1 in 68.

Doyle noted that part of the reason for the growing rate of autism diagnosis is due to the criteria used to identify and diagnose children and how those children are served in communities. She noted that health care providers are developing better skills as more is learned about the disorder. Another reason that more children are being diagnosed with autism lies in the fact that health care providers recognize the disorder as a spectrum. In the distant past, children with an autism diagnosis were nonverbal and intellectually disabled. Today, autism is looked at as a spectrum with varying degrees of symptoms and is called autism spectrum disorder. In fact, according to the CDC, your child may have a high IQ and never attend special education classes but still receive an autism diagnosis.

The CDC research indicated that the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder with average or above average intelligence rose by nearly 50 percent from 2002 to 2010. Doyle speculated that the increase could be because more children with higher intellectual abilities have autism, doctors are better at diagnosing autism in children or a combination of the two. It is estimated that 1.2 million children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder.

Most health care professionals agree that autism is caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetics. Environmental factors believed to be involved include exposure to pesticides and organic pollutants or toxins such as mercury during pregnancy. Your genetics are believed to play a role in an autism diagnosis because research shows that if you have a child who has the disorder, your subsequent children have an 8 percent chance of having autism.

Many parents believe that vaccinations can cause an autism diagnosis. You may believe that theory based on the fact that many vaccines contain an ingredient called thimerosal, a preservative that contains ethylmercury. Health care professionals, including the CDC, have found no evidence to support this theory in their research.

Even though the numbers presented by the CDC indicate growing rates in autism disorder diagnoses, those figures cover the spectrum of autism rather than the strict interpretation of the disorder that was used years ago. Your child’s autism diagnosis symptoms may be mild or severe and your child may have below, average or above average intelligence; however, doctors are skilled in treating the disorder and community services are available to help your family.


(Photo courtesy of marin /


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