In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that there were 1 in 88 children in the United States who had autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That represented an almost a 1000% increase since the 1980s. There is now 1 in 68 children who have ASD, a 30% increase from just two years ago, according to a new report released by the CDC.
What Does The Official Data Say?
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued that the world faces a critical problem with the growing number of people with mental and neurological problems, including autism, which accounts for 11% of global disease. The number is projected to reach approximately 15% by 2020. In 2009, the WHO estimated that there are 1,100,000 cases of autism in China; 650,000 in the UK; 500,000 in the Philippines; and 180,000 in Thailand. The rate of autism is growing at 14% per year around the world. In China it is growing at a rate of 20% a year.
The incidence of autism ranged from a low of 1 in 175 children in Alabama to a high of 1 in 45 in New Jersey, according to the CDC.
ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189).
About 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism.
"We look at all of the characteristics of autism," says Coleen Boyle, the director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
"So we look at the age in which they're identified. We look at their earliest diagnosis. We look at co-occuring conditions that these children might have, other developmental disabilities, whether or not they have intellectual disability, so essentially their IQ."
Vaccines Are Not The Only Contributor To Autism
The report is not designed to say why more children are being diagnosed with autism, Boyle says. But she believes increased awareness in identifying and diagnosing children contributes to the higher numbers.
Anti-vaccine advocates have sharply criticized the medical community for the rise in vaccination scheduling and frequency as a primary cause of autism. Although vaccines are certainly a contributor to ASD, they are not the smoking gun in terms of causation. If they were, then a much higher percentage of children receiving vaccines would exhibit symptoms of the disorder.
There is indeed a correlation between children receiving vaccines and the tendency to develop symptoms of ASD. The United States has the highest number of mandated vaccines for children under 5 in the world (36, double the Western world average of 18), the highest autism rate in the world (More than 10 times or more the rate of some other Western countries). However, according to the vaccine data, a direct link between vaccines and autism is inconclusive in terms of causation. Much of the confusion stems from the abundance of toxins and pollutants in our foods and the environment which only contribute to the problem. Genetic predisposition also plays a role which can no longer be denied.
Environmental factors that could trigger predisposed genes to mutate and cause autism are vast and could include certain drugs, chemicals, heavy metal exposure, antibiotics, flame retardants, or toxins introduced during key developmental phases in the womb.
The accumulated evidence is strong enough to convince even one-time proponents of the MMR vaccine-autism link, like Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, director of the International Child Development Resource Center in Palm Bay, Fla. "MMR does not appear to cause autism," alone Bradstreet concedes. "If it did, it would be a godsend because we could change the vaccine and that would be it." Still, he suspects that the MMR vaccine might worsen a pre-existing autistic condition.
Of course that doesn't stop the the medical propaganda matrix from once again coming full circle with their patented problem-reaction-solution as the first-ever autism vaccine created by University of Guelph researchers to control autistic symptoms was announced last year.
ASD Definition Unchanged and Children Are Being Diagnosed Too Late
"We comb through records. We accumulate all that information and then each one of those records is reviewed by a specialist to make sure that that child meets our autism case definition," says Boyle. The definition of autism is unchanged from the 2012 report.
One thing that hasn't changed over the years is that children are still being diagnosed late. According to the report, the average age of diagnosis is still over age 4, even though autism can be diagnosed by age 2.
The earlier a child is diagnosed with autism, the better their chances of overcoming the difficulties that come with the disorder.
"It's not a cure, but it changes the trajectory," says Dr. Gary Goldstein, president and CEO of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.
"We need to continue our efforts to educate the health care community and general public to recognize the developmental problems associated with ASD and other developmental disorders at earliest age possible, so that intervention can be initiated, bad habits can be avoided and families will know what's wrong with their child," says Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland who diagnoses and treats children with autism.
This new report is based on 2010 data, when the children were 8 years old (born in 2002).
Since 2000, the CDC has based its autism estimates on surveillance reports from its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
Every two years, researchers count how many 8-year-olds have autism in about a dozen communities across the nation. (The number of sites had ranged from six to 14 over the years, depending on the available funding in a given year.)
In 2000 and 2002, the autism estimate was about 1 in 150 children. Two years later 1 in 125 8-year-olds was believed to have autism. In 2006, the number grew to 1 in 110, and then the number went up to 1 in 88 based on 2008 data, but if those numbers may be statistically inaccurate. Boyle acknowledges these statistics are not necessarily representative of the entire United States because the information is drawn from 11 states, not a national cross-section. For example the CDC found in 2012 found that rates are much higher in New Jersey. In New Jersey the number is 1 in every 49 children. This equates to approximately 1 in every 29 boys who are now 12 years old, and well enough to be in public school.
Not Equally Comparing The ASD Rates Diagnosed 20 Years Ago
Experts such as Wiznitzer and Goldstein are concerned that the new CDC report is not describing the same autism that was present and diagnosed 20 years ago, when the numbers first shot up.
"Twenty years ago we thought of autism with intellectual disability. We never looked at children who had normal intelligence" -- doctors never considered that high-functioning children had autism too, says Goldstein.
Wiznitzer believes written reports can't definitively determine whether a child has autism. You need to see the child to complete a diagnosis, which the CDC experts did not have the opportunity to do.
"This report tells us that there's a significant number of children in the states where they were assessed that have social differences and a pattern of behaviors that can be represented by ASD, but may also be due to other conditions that superficially can have similar features, such as social anxiety, ADHD with social immaturity and intelligence problems," he says.
And while the CDC reports it is still seeing a higher prevalence of autism in white children relative to African-American and Hispanic children, "there's a greater percentage of people of color and in females being diagnosed now," says Scott Badesch, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America. "We're also seeing a great increase of diagnosis above the age of 8 in girls."
"Behind these numbers are real people," he says. "Every one of these numbers is a family that's coming to terms with the implications of the diagnosis for the lifespan of their loved one."
"We need a plan to respond to these numbers, a national strategy for autism, and leadership has to come from Washington," because every congressional district is affected, says Ring.
In the end, it's not so much about the final number. As Goldstein puts it, 1 in 68 or 1 in 70 doesn't really matter. What matters, he says, is that we now know this is not a rare disorder, and it's important that each individual gets the help they need to have the best quality of life.
All agree that a comprehensive national strategy that includes the research community, policy makers, educators and caregivers is necessary to find solutions for people who live with autism.
One of the biggest problems, in Goldstein's eyes: "We don't have enough trained professionals to do this." He adds, "it's hard to get paid to do this."
Helping Autistic Children Cope Through Diet
Many parents have claimed a high degree of success from dietary strategies to reduce the symptoms of ASD. According to researchers from Penn State a gluten-free, casein-free diet may lead to improvements in behavior and physiological symptoms in children diagnosed with ASD.
"Research has shown that children with ASD commonly have GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms," said Christine Pennesi, medical student at Penn State College of Medicine. "Notably, a greater proportion of our study population reported GI and allergy symptoms than what is seen in the general pediatric population. Some experts have suggested that gluten- and casein-derived peptides cause an immune response in children with ASD, and others have proposed that the peptides could trigger GI symptoms and behavioral problems."
"Gluten and casein seem to be the most immunoreactive," Klein said. "A child's skin and blood tests for gluten and casein allergies can be negative, but the child still can have a localized immune response in the gut that can lead to behavioral and psychological symptoms. When you add that in with autism you can get an exacerbation of effects."
"If parents are going to try a gluten-free, casein-free diet with their children, they really need to stick to it in order to receive the possible benefits," she said.
Parents of autistic children should realize that there are now many avenues of support due to the growing segment of the population being afflicted with this disease. That means parents and caregivers will soon have as many answers as they are willing to accept. We may never have all the answers, but many prevention and treatment protocols are available and the knowledge of ASD is gradually increasing in both mainstream and alternative health care. Together, we will all find a solution to help our children and each other.
Dave Mihalovic is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in vaccine research, cancer prevention and a natural approach to treatment.