Number of U.S. Children With Autism Spikes In Two Years

News & Views | Gerren Keith Gaynor | 03/28/2014 | 10:30 AM EDT

The government estimates 1 in 68 children have autism, a 30-percent increase

The number of U.S. children living with autism is steadily increasing, according to new estimates conducted by government officials.

In just two years, the ratio for kids with autism has shifted to 1 in 68, which is a 30-percent increase. Despite this spike, health officials warned that it may not mean that autism is becoming more common, but more so that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently, particularly those with milder problems, due to a cultural and medical shift.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest estimate on Thursday. The Atlanta-based agency said its calculation means autism affects roughly 1.2 million Americans under 21. Two years ago, the CDC put the estimate at 1 in 88 children, or about 1 million.

The cause or causes of autism remain unknown. Without any blood test or other medical tests for autism, diagnosis is not an exact science. It’s identified, rather, by making judgments about a child’s behavior.

Though the CDC’s report is considered the most comprehensive on the frequency of autism, results have been considered less reliable as a survey of parents suggests that as many as 1 in 50 children have autism.

Quite a few celebrities who are parents of children with autism, such as Toni Braxton and Holly Robinson Peete, have become vocal advocates for the special needs condition.

For decades, autism commonly meant that kids suffered from severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitive behaviors. The definition, however, has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions. For example, in the latest study, almost half of autistic kids had average or above average IQs. That’s up from a third a decade ago and can be taken as an indication that the autism label is more commonly given to higher-functioning children.

(Photo: Garry Wade/Getty Images)

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