A new study of autism prevalence is gaining international headlines.
Researchers say 1 in 38 children, that’s 2.64%, of kids they studied had autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They also found more than two-thirds of ASD cases in the mainstream school population unrecognized and untreated. This leads them to believe autism prevalence estimates worldwide could increase when a comprehensive approach is used to identify children with ASD.
“These findings suggest that ASD is under-diagnosed and under-reported and that rigorous screening and comprehensive population studies may be necessary to produce accurate ASD prevalence estimates,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D.
Currently, ASD is diagnosed in one in 110 children in the United States, specifically one in 70 boys.
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges.
The prevalence of autism has increased 600 percent in the past two decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls autism a national public health crisis – the cause and cure unknown.
For the first time, an international team of investigators from the U.S., South Korea, and Canada used a total population sample of 55,000 kids, 7-12 years old, to estimate the prevalence of ASD in South Korea.
The study does not suggest Koreans have more autism than other populations, it suggests autism is more common if researchers look carefully, especially in previously understudied, non-clinical populations, according to scientists.
“This is the first comprehensive population sample-based prevalence calculation in Korea, and replication in other populations is essential,” notes Dawson. “Notwithstanding the need for replication, this study provides important evidence that the application of validated, reliable and commonly accepted screening procedures and diagnostic criteria applied to a total population has the potential to yield an ASD prevalence exceeding previous estimates.”
“We know that the best outcomes for children with ASD come from the earliest possible diagnosis and intervention,” concluded Dr. Kim and her colleague Dr. Koh from the Korea Institute for Children’s Social Development, “Goyang City, host of the Korea study, has responded to these study findings by providing comprehensive assessment and intervention services for all first graders entering their school system. We hope that others will follow Goyang City’s example so that any population based identification of children with ASD is accompanied by intervention services for those children and their families.”
Experts disagree about the causes and significance of reported increases in ASD, partly because of variations in diagnostic criteria and incomplete epidemiologic studies that have limited the establishment of actual population-based rates, says Kim.
“We were able to find more children with ASD and describe the full spectrum of ASD clinical characteristics,” says Kim. “Recent research reveals that part of the increase in reported ASD prevalence appears attributable to factors such as increased public awareness and broadening of diagnostic criteria. This study suggests that better case finding may actually account for an even larger increase. While the current project did not investigate potential risk factors in this particular population, the study does set the stage for ongoing work to examine genetic and environmental factors contributing to the risk of ASD.”
The article, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder in a Total Population Sample,” appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry .
This research, by Young Shin Kim, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., Ph.D. of the Yale Child Study Center, and her collaborators Bennett L. Leventhal, M.D., Yun-Joo Koh, Ph.D., Eric Fombonne, M.D., Eugene Laska, Ph.D., Eun-Chung Lim, M.A., Keun-Ah Cheon, M.D., Ph.D., Soo-Jeong Kim, M.D., HyunKyung Lee, M.A., Dong-Ho Song, M.D. and Roy Richard Grinker, Ph.D., was funded by a Pilot Research Grant from Autism Speaks as well as grants from the Children’s Brain Research Foundation, NIMH and the George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research.
Autism Speaks is the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since 2005, Autism Speaks committed over $160 million to researching the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
Autism Speaks is supporting similar epidemiological research efforts in India, South Africa, Mexico, and Taiwan, including the translation and adaptation of the gold-standard diagnostic instruments into languages spoken by more than 1.7 billion people worldwide.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 8am EST the TODAY show on NBC will discuss this comprehensive study of autism prevalence in-depth.
The number of children with autism in Rhode Island’s public schools increased more than 1,500 between 1992 and 2002, according to the Autism Project of Rhode Island.
Autism Project of Rhode Island
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