1 January 2003
Autism rates up in metro area
in 300 children in metro Atlanta has autism, a rate nearly 10 times
higher than found in most previous U.S. studies, a new report finds.
say the increase stems in part from a broader definition of the
disease, more available services and heightened public awareness,
but it also may indicate a growing prevalence of autism in Atlanta
and across the country.
Atlanta rate is not thought to be higher than the national average
but rather a better reflection of the true rate nationwide.
study, conducted by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention and reported in today's Journal of the American Medical
Society, is part of a CDC effort to determine baseline rates so
scientists can see if the disease is on the rise, as many claim.
national rate has been established for autism, a developmental disorder
marked by poor language and social skills.
studies in Arkansas, North Dakota and Utah found about 1 in 2,750
children with autism. Those studies were smaller and done mostly
before 1991, when the U.S. Department of Education extended special
education services to autism, increasing attention to the disease.
definition of autism also changed in 1994 to include milder forms
of the disease, such as Asperger syndrome, in which children lack
social skills but are often highly verbal.
only other population-based study of autism rates in the United
States was in 1998 in New Jersey. The small study in one township
found 1 in 150 children had autism, but community concern about
a possible upswing in the disease is believed to have influenced
is the first of 13 communities across the country in which the CDC
is compiling autism rates. Researchers reviewed records at schools,
doctors' offices and social service agencies in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb,
Fulton and Gwinnett counties from 1996 and found 987 autistic children
out of 290,000 children ages 3 to 10.
among blacks and whites were the same, and autistic boys outnumbered
girls 4 to 1.
Yeargin-Allsopp, lead author of the CDC study, said the broader
definition of autism and growing public awareness account for part
of the higher rate.
teachers, pediatricians and social workers nationwide reported soaring
autism cases in the 1990s. But CDC officials say those figures may
be misleading because they measure the number of children enrolling
in services and not actual occurrence of disease.
started getting calls in the 1990s from around the country, in rural
and urban areas, from people saying, 'What's going on here? We've
never had so many children come in for autism services,' "
said Gail McGee, director of Emory University's Autism Center.
center saw 900 patients last year, up from 100 a decade before.
is no cure for autism, but behavioral therapy often reduces the