According to the latest estimates by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 88 children, and one out every 54 boys, born in the U.S. has autism. This latest analysis shows that autism rates have risen by 23 percent since 2006 and by 78 percent by 2002.
With the prevalence of autism having nearly doubled since the CDC started tracking the disorder in 1992, CDC officials have now officially recognized autism as an epidemic in the U.S.
With the number of children struggling to deal with the disorder having reached an all time high, support structures in place to assist families dealing with autism have become stretched increasingly thin. Additional autism research and better services for those living with the disorder will demand further economic resources. However, the current cost of helping those with autism already has an astronomically high price tag, according to the preliminary findings of a co-ventured study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics.
According to the results of the study, the current autism rate of one out of 88 children born with the disorder will cost the U.S. $137 billion a year. Researchers also estimate that approximately 45 percent of all autistic Americans suffer from a learning disability. The lifetime cost for every individual with such a disability is $2.3 million.
Autism on the Rise
When it comes to determining why the number of children born with autism has increased so dramatically, CDC officials struggle to provide an answer. While a definite explanation may still prove elusive, officials do believe a variety of factors may have contributed to the increase.
One of the primary reasons for the increase is due to how children with autism are now better identified and provided for within their communities. Doctors have also shown a better understanding of autism and how to diagnose the disorder in children. However, health officials are quick to point out that improved awareness, detection, and diagnosis only explains part of the increase, and that a large portion of the puzzle, some estimate at least 50 percent, still remains unexplained.
Many experts believe that a massive, multi-year project launched by the CDC in 2008 called the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), which was designed to study risk factors for autism, could provide some of these answers in the coming years. But since the program tracks children from conception on as they age, it will take years before SEED begins to offer any clear answers.
Currently researchers understand that autism occurs due to a complicated interaction between environmental influences and genetics, but what types of autism are linked to which factors still remains a mystery.
A Call to Action
While understanding why autism rates have jumped so dramatically remains a vital question, many autism advocates argue that society shouldn’t forget about the children currently suffering from the condition.
With more children being born with autism every year, a huge demand has been placed on educating parents, daycare providers, and teachers on how to assist autistic children with their development. Studies have shown that their earlier autistic children start to receive the right kind of education, the better they function intellectually, socially, and emotionally.
While teachers do receive some training in regards with how to reach an autistic child, this information usually gets disseminated in a single workshop or course. Not nearly enough to provide teachers with the kind of background needed to deal with the wide spectrum of autism disorders they’ll encounter on the job.
Advocates for better autism education argue that a more comprehensive strategy needs to be put into place that not only addresses the issues of special education training, but also ensures that teachers receive continuous educational training, as strategies used to teach autistic children can also be successfully used to teach all children.
Whether this call to action is answered probably depends on how seriously education officials take this findings, as the number of autistic children in the classroom continues to rise.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Sue Walker, a dentist in Milwaukee, Oregon.