A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some bracing news about autism in America: According to its most recent data, 1 in 68 American 8-year-olds have some sort of autism spectrum disorder, a 30 percent rise from just two years earlier. When you look at just 8-year-old boys, that number rises to 1 in 42. In 2000, when the CDC started recording autism prevalence, an estimated 1 in 150 children were autistic. The new numbers, from 2010, are extrapolated from data from 11 states.
Nobody can say for sure why autism numbers are rising so fast — and this report doesn't even try — but the biggest factors probably have little to do with an increase in autism and more to do with earlier and better diagnosis, plus a shift in what we mean by autism. There's no common criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders, which is one reason parts of New Jersey reported 1 in 45 kids with ASD and parts of Alabama recorded 1 in 175.
The biggest rise in autism diagnoses was among kids with average or above-average IQs — generally understood to be milder forms of the disorder. "Twenty years ago we thought of autism with intellectual disability," Johns Hopkins neurologist Dr. Gary Goldstein tells CNN. "We never looked at children who had normal intelligence." Here's a breakdown of the new data, from the CDC. --Peter Weber