How many American children have autism? The US government is answering this question in at least three different ways and says the latest estimate – 1 in 40 – does not necessarily mean the numbers are increasing.
The new issue, published Monday in Pediatrics, comes from one of three periodic surveys used by the government to assess autism rates. This is higher than the estimate of a different survey released earlier this year, but surveys use different methods and measure different populations of children, so the results are only not really comparable.
Since there is no medical test, "autism spectrum disorders are particularly difficult to monitor," government researchers wrote in the Pediatrics report.
The true incidence of autism is likely to range from about 1 in 59 children to 1 in 40 children, according to the researchers, taking into account information from the three surveys.
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"All bring different information for a more complete picture," said Michael Kogan, lead author of the new report by the US Health Resources & Services Administration, a federal agency.
Various reports in recent years have suggested that rates of autism were slightly up. Experts believe that this is mainly due to early diagnosis, broader definition and greater awareness, but can not exclude a real increase due to unknown factors.
Here is an overview of the three polls:
– The latest estimate is based on the responses of about 43,000 parents of children aged 3 to 17 years old. They were asked if their child had ever been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, an official name that includes mild to severe cases. The 2016 survey was based on the Internet; The previous ones were telephone surveys showing slightly higher rates, but the researchers say the results are not comparable,
The nationally representative survey indicates that about 1.5 million American children have autism – 2.5%, or 1 in 40.
– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent collect nationally representative information from face-to-face interviews. In 2016, he also interviewed parents of children aged 3 to 17 years on a constant diagnosis of autism and suggested a slightly higher rate than in previous years, but similar to the estimate of 1 in 40.
– The CDC also uses an 11-state tracking system. It is based on medical and school records indicating which children meet the criteria for autism, focusing on 8-year-olds because most cases are diagnosed at this age. A report from this network published in April showed that one in 59 children had autism, although much higher rates were seen in some places. This estimate is considered to be the most rigorous, but it is not representative at the national level.
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Autism Speaks, a lobby group, is one of the organizations that use the CDC network estimate. It tends to be more conservative and potentially more accurate than parents' reports, said neuroscientist Dean Hartley, the group's senior director.
Autism is a developmental disorder that can involve varying degrees of language and social impairment, often including repetitive behaviors.
According to experts, early diagnosis and treatment are more suitable for affected children, but some doctors may rule out early signs and some parents may not know the symptoms of autism, said Dr. Stuart Shapira, of the CDC.
The pediatric survey found that about one-third of children with autism reported by parents were not receiving any behavioral treatment and that many parents were having difficulty getting services for their children. children, echoing previous studies.
Shapira said the agency has a free Milestone Tracker phone app to help parents recognize developmental delays.