On Thursday, the CDC released a new report on autism in the United States, claiming that autism prevalence has increased by 30% in the last two years. Now, according to the CDC, 1 in 68 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with autism.
I always have mixed feelings when I see new reports of prevalence and incidence of chronic and life-threatening disease states. On one hand, I think they are important to drive better diagnostic medicine and motivate us – a healthcare providers – to work harder to prevent these conditions. But I really think that these reports often scare individuals more than inform them. The parents I know have been terrified at the increasing incidence of autism spectrum disorders, and these reports – while informative – don’t give guidance to parents or patients on how to approach this condition or the myriad of factors involved in its development.
In my searches to better understand the recent report on autism, I found these interesting blog posts with differing viewpoints. The first, by a Seattle area pediatrician consulting with a Seattle Children’s hospital neurodevelopmental specialist, offers the opinion that with better diagnostic tools and evaluations, we will continue to find more children who fit the criteria for ASDs. She also offers some much-needed advice at the end of the article for parents and caregivers on what to do with this information. Other blog posts take a different stance. Authors at SafeMinds.org state that the new numbers are not just due to an increase in awareness and better diagnostic tools, but more related to environmental exposure. The second post offers a similar opinion, and cites a very interesting article from the journal Nature in 2011 regarding the environmental factors possibly influencing the condition.
What do you think? And arguably a more valuable question: Where do we go from here?
I believe that in the case of rising prevalence of autism, it’s not an “either/or” question. It’s not about identification of one, single cause. I have no doubt that (from ever-emerging research and in practice) autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are influenced by countless environmental, genetic, nutritional, social, educational, emotional and familial factors, and determining which of these help and hinder each individual child is the labor of love that my patients’ families and I undertake together.