Results from a large study have reignited the debate about whether
autism spectrum disorders have become more common — or whether
expanded diagnostic criteria and increased awareness are fueling
the increase in the number of cases identified.
Researchers at the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau (part of
the Department of Health and Human Services) analyzed data from the
2007 National Survey of Children's Health. This telephone survey
collected information from 78,037 parents of children ages 3 to 17,
selected through random digit dialing (a standard technique to
produce a representative sample). During the survey, parents were
asked whether they had ever been told by a health care provider
that their child had autism, Asperger's disorder, pervasive
developmental disorder, or another autism spectrum disorder.
In the survey, 913 parents said their child was currently diagnosed
with an autism spectrum disorder, and another 453 said their child
once had such a diagnosis but no longer did. Based on the
responses, the investigators estimated that 110 U.S. children out
of 10,000 currently have an autism spectrum disorder — or roughly
one in every 91. If confirmed by other studies, this would mean
that autism spectrum disorders are now slightly more common than
schizophrenia (which affects about one in 100 Americans).
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