More Autism Cases in Children

POSTED: Monday, October 5, 2009 - 7:01am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:58pm

Carla Hendricks learned her 13-year-old son Keith had autism when he was a toddler. "Keith is not very verbal, so it was difficult for me when he was younger because he would throw a lot of tantrums, and I didn't know what was wrong," she said.

According to a new study, 1 in every 91 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with some form of autism -- higher than the previous estimate of 1 in 150 children. "We're not surprised by this," said Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society. "We've been tracking this nationally through state agencies and their numbers are falling in line with what this study is showing."

Better diagnosis and awareness may account for part of the increase, but some point to other factors. "We've been subjected to numerous chemicals and neurotoxins over the last century," said Grossman.

The study is based on surveys of more than 78,000 parents of children between the ages of 3 and 17. But since verbal interviews were used to gather the information, some doctors are skeptical of the accuracy.

"When we're dealing with a parent report, you don't know who gave the label, and was it an accurate label," said Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a neurologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

The study also found that 40% of children who had at one time been diagnosed with a form of autism, no longer meet that criteria. "It's not that those children don't have developmental and behavioral problems, cause they do," said Dr. Susan Hyman of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Children who lose the diagnosis of autism typically will have some other symptoms if you look carefully enough."

"He's very unpredictable," said Hendricks of her son, Keith. A puzzling disorder that according to the study is being diagnosed more often, with more and more families looking for resources. The survey indicated boys are four times more likely than girls to have autistic characteristics, and white, more often than black or multi racial children. Parents of half he kids with autism described the condition as mild.

Supporters of the study say it should be a wake-up call for more services to help families with autistic children.