Talk about déjà vu.
It was just over two months ago we and other news agencies reported on a study published in the journal Pediatrics that found that autism was now in about 1 in 91 children. So I was scratching my head when I started seeing news reports late this past week stating that autism was in 1 out of every 110 children.
After a little digging, I see it was spurred by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing a press release on the findings of an analysis of actual 8-year-old child health records, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The Pediatrics study was a structured phone survey of parents (not an analysis of actual child health records).
While it’s great that we now have two datasets that are in basic agreement that indeed, there has been a “jump” in the rates of autism from its previous estimated rate of 1 in 150, it wasn’t the same kind of news that the October study was. Why confirmatory data for autism got such widespread media coverage is beyond me, as confirmatory data in nearly any other health concern is most often just ignored (“Oh, we already covered that story, and this doesn’t change anything”).
In fact, if there’s anything newsworthy here, the news is that the rates of autism are actually better than we thought. We had thought that autism was occurring in every 1 out of 91 children. Now we know it’s 1 out of 110, a 20 percent difference! The news here is that autism rates aren’t as bad as we thought they were two and a half months ago, but still worse than they were from the original years-old 1 in 150 CDC estimate.
But I couldn’t find a single mainstream news outlet that actually put the numbers into context compared with the last round of numbers published — the October numbers, not the numbers from a few years ago. Every news story I read simply stated that the two sets of numbers were in basic agreement. Not untrue, but not the whole story either.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Dec 2009
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2009). Autism Rates Redux: Autism Rates Better Than in October. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 13, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/12/20/autism-rates-redux-autism-rates-better-than-in-october/