CDC: One in 110 American Children has Autism

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Talk About Curing Autism Statement & Analysis

Prepared by Rebecca Estepp

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on last Friday their newest Autism prevalence findings. In a report published in the December 18, 2009 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC stated that one in every 110 children (or approximately one percent of children) has been diagnosed with autism.  As seen in past reports, rates amongst boys continue to be higher than girls. One in 70 boys holds a diagnosis compared to only one in 315 girls is diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Read the full study in the MMWR.

The data collected for this report was taken from 11 different sites from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network. The data was extracted from screenings of health and educational records in 2006 from 8 year olds (birth year 1998). The CDC previously looked at autism rates of 8 year olds in 2002 (birth year 1994). In the span of just four years, the rate of autism in the United States increased by an alarming 57 percent.

How Does this study compare to the October 2009 MMWR Journal of Pediatric Report?

This MMWR report resembles an earlier study released last October in the Journal Pediatrics. Pediatrics found the autism rate to be one in 91 children, just above one percent of American children. The slight difference in prevalence numbers between these two reports are due to different methodologies in data collection.  The data in the October Pediatrics report is newer (2007) and looked at children born in a range of years (1990-2004) versus looking at just  one-year-birth cohort like the MMWR report. These two reasons most likely explain the higher incidence rate from the Pediatrics Report. Since the Pediatrics data is more current, TACA will continue to use 1 in 91 prevalence rate in our literature. Read more about the October Pediatrics report.

The CDC Explains the Report to the Autism Community

In addition to the announcement and release of the MMWR on Friday, December 18, 2009, the CDC also held a conference call for interested parties. Catherine Rice, PhD, from the CDC and Corresponding author of this study hosted the call. Dr. Rice referred to autism as a “significant health issue” that will receive a “concerted and strong response” from the CDC. Those two terms were not explained in any detail. This left many on the call to wonder what action will be taken by the CDC due to these higher rates. Dr. Rice did acknowledge that “environmental factors” are implicated in autism. She also stated that the CDC recognizes “there are multiple causes of Autism.” During the question-and-answer period of the call, Dr. Rice was asked if the CDC would ever consider declaring autism an epidemic. She answered that epidemics are only declared for infectious diseases and for health conditions like obesity that affect a larger percentage of the population.

“A True Increase Can Not be Ruled Out”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the community phone call was Dr. Rice explaining her theories on the dramatic autism increase. She felt that better detection and methodologies, especially amongst the Hispanic and female populations, were partially responsible for the increase. However, she did concede that a “true increase cannot be ruled out.”

It is very interesting that Dr. Rice did not say, “The rates indicate a true increase.” She decided to use a double negative to gingerly broach the subject of a true autism increase.  As the saying goes, Dr. Rice “would neither confirm nor deny” a true autism increase. This leaves families affected by  autism wondering if the federal government is actually acknowledging the alarming increase and will take meaningful action to investigate what environmental factors are at play in causing the autism epidemic.

The “Burden of Proof:” Other Views on the Autism Increase

The M.I.N.D. Institute at University of California Davis has documented the sharp increase in autism. In January 2009 the Institute found that the increase in autism cannot be explained by either changes in how the condition is diagnosed or counted. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, PhD, is an internationally renowned environmental epidemiologist and one of the authors of the M.I.N.D. Institute’s study. According to Dr. Hertz-Picciotto, "It's time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California." Read more about this ground-breaking study.

Also, in a very timely interview, journalist David Kirby recently spoke to Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health and the head of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), last Friday. Dr. Insel stated, “"As far as I can tell, the burden of proof is upon anybody who feels that there is NOT a real increase here in the number of kids affected." Read more from David Kirby’s interview.

Dr. Robert Sears, pediatrician and author of The Vaccine Book, wrote a Huffington Post titled, “Wake Up Medical Establishment: There’s an Autism Epidemic!” His post was written in response to the CDC’s unwillingness to recognize the scope and extent of the autism crisis in America. Read more from Dr. Sears.

So where does this leave us?

Is some respects hearing the terms “environmental factors,” “multiples causes of autism,” “a true increase can not be ruled out” are steps in the right direction for the CDC. However, this recognition of the overwhelming statistics from both state and federal agencies is ten years over due.  Age of Autism Editor, Mark Blaxill, was featured on Foxnews.com last Friday. He spoke of his frustration with the CDC, “I’d offer that the CDC is doing a terrible job on autism.” Read Mark’s interview.

Dr. Bob Sears ended his Huffington Post with a very strong quote,”Denying the epidemic is like a slap in the face of every parent and child affected. Wake up America! It's time to get to the bottom of this!”

TACA could not agree more. The federal government should take immediate action to determine what environmental factors have caused the alarming and overwhelming increase in the prevalence of autism among American children.