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It appears to researchers that diagnoses of autism are increasing, even beyond predictions by experts.
Over a four-year period in the last decade, the documented prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) rose significantly in four New Jersey counties. Researchers used data from 2006 and found an increase from 10.6 children per thousand in 2002 to 17.4 children per thousand.
The prevalence rose for both boys (17.0 to 28.7 per thousand) and girls (from 4.1 to 5.9 per thousand). ASD varied by ethnicity with white-non Hispanics recording the highest levels. Hispanic and Asian children were approximately equal.
Walter Zahorodny, PhD, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), says the rises in ASD are in line with those measured when similar methodology has been applied in other states. Children in New Jersey are not at higher risk.
“New Jersey has long been a leading indicator of general ASD prevalence because our stat was out front early in its ability to recognize symptoms in schools and health care settings,” he explained. “As diagnostic skills become more sophisticated in other states, we are finding that they, too, are seeing higher numbers.”
These numbers are surprising, though, and exceed projections and expectations. “In various parts of the United States, overall ASD prevalence is approaching two percent,” Zahorodny stated. “In the past, scientists predicted the prevalence rates would ultimately level off around one percent.”
Further research is needed to determine which factors have contributed to rises in ASD and whether the prevalence will continue to rise or level off.
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