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Is Autism An Epidemic?

Is Autism An Epidemic?A majority of experts agree that the number of children diagnosed with autism appears to be on the increase. However, it is not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting of autism, a real increase in the number of cases, or both.

A group called Autism Speaks, a world leader in autism science and advocacy, believes the situation has reached an epidemic level. As such, they call for a national strategy to mitigate what they call a public health crisis.

The outcry is predicated on a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finding that autism is now diagnosed in 1 in every 88 American children.

Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, said, “We have an epidemic on our hands. The costs are staggering and will continue to rise as prevalence continues to increase. We know that early diagnosis and treatment are critical, so it is imperative that the U.S. government steps up its commitment to helping people living with autism today.

“There is a way to address this. The investment we make now is essential to reducing the immediate and long-term costs of autism to families and society.”

The CDC report, published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), states that more than 1 percent, or 1 in every 88 children, is diagnosed with autism today, including 1 in 54 boys.

This is a 78 percent increase in 6 years (2002-2008) and a 10-fold (1000%) increase in reported prevalence over the last 40 years. The report uses the same methodology that produced the CDC’s 2009 prevalence findings of 1 in 110 children with autism.

Autism is a developmental problem and is a disorder found within the broader category of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood — usually before age 3. Though symptoms and severity vary, all autism disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

The advocacy group believes a national action plan should include, among other elements:

• Increased funding for basic science uncovering the genetic underpinnings of autism;
• Increased funding for environmental research detecting the causes of autism;
• Accelerated funding and development of effective medicines and treatments;
• Commitment to a strategy where all children with autism from every background are diagnosed no later than18 months of age;
• Commitment to a National Training Corps to recruit more therapists and service providers, as well as specially trained teachers and teacher assistants;
• A strategy to address the growing needs of adults with autism, specifically around continuing education, employment, housing/residential living and community integration.

“Our commitment must meet the challenge,” added Wright. “We need the President, the public health agencies and representatives from both sides of the aisle to come together. A national emergency needs a national strategy. Anything less won’t be enough.”

“We know early diagnosis matters, but early diagnosis without access to treatment means nothing,” said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “A majority of children don’t get the treatment and services they need and deserve. We have to address all of this as we move forward.”

“The CDC numbers are alarming, yet they don’t begin to tell the story of the real families, real individuals struggling every day,” said Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr.

“From fighting to get a diagnosis and secure appropriate educational services and therapies, to trying to manage tremendous financial and emotional burdens or find a satisfying job opportunity, families are engaged in a daily battle against this disorder.

“We need to marshal the same resources and attention that the government has devoted to other diseases and disorders and finally make this a fair fight.”

The total 2011 National Institutes of Health budget was $30.5 billion. Of this, only $169 million – or 0.6% — was directly focused on autism research.

According to Autism Speaks, recent research Autism estimates that autism costs society a staggering $126 billion per year (U.S.) – a number that has more than tripled since 2006. This cost increases to $137 billion with the new prevalence numbers.

Researchers say the cost of providing care for each person with autism affected by intellectual disability in the U.S. is $2.3 million through his or her lifespan. The lifetime cost of caring for individuals who are not impacted by intellectual disability is $1.4 million.

Source: Autism Speaks


Young boy wearing hooded sweatshirt photo by shutterstock.

Is Autism An Epidemic?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Is Autism An Epidemic?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Mar 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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