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New study suggests autism cases rising sharply

Apr 2, 2012 5:07pm
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(NECN/NBC News: Brian Mooar) - A new study suggests that autism cases are rising sharply or that more cases are being discovered.

The study by government researchers does not answer questions about the mysterious causes of autism, but it demonstrates that the raw number of confirmed autism cases has been steadily rising for years.

One autism advocate calls this a national epidemic in need of a national plan.

An ongoing study of fourteen areas across the United States shows a troubling spike in autism cases.

"One in 88 children has been identified with autism," said Coleen Boyle, Ph.D, CDC.

But experts acknowledge this increase might simply be explained by better diagnosis.

"What we don't know if we should be alarmed by yet is if this is a truly a change in the number of children who have autism, or if it's a matter of we're recognizing it better,” said James McPartland, Yale University.

The study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention shows autism cases jumped 23-percent from 2006 to 2008 and spiked 78-percent when compared to 2002.

The 2008 numbers show autism spectrum disorders are five times more common in boys than girls.

And the largest increases among Hispanic and African-American children.

Older parents and premature births are suspected factors, but the cause remains a mystery.

"The prevailing scientific idea is it's something that affects the brain predominantly in utero -- so in other words it's either genetic or environmental factor in utero," said Dr. Max Wiznitzer, Uh Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.

The study shows the average age of diagnosis is down to four years old, but experts say that's not good enough; they're hoping to get children diagnosed by 18 months to give them a head start on treatment.

The 2010 numbers are being gathered now but won't be available for another two years.

For more information you can visit the CDC website or Autism Speaks.

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