Autism rate in U.S. kids remains steady

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The autism rate among school-aged children in the United States has held steady in recent years, but it’s too early to determine whether rates are stabilizing, according to a federal government report released Thursday.

The autism rate was 1 in 68 children in 2012, the same as it was in 2010, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC gets its numbers from monitoring autism among 8-year-olds in 11 communities in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

“What we know for sure is that there are many children living with autism who need services and support now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” Dr. Stuart Shapira, chief medical officer for the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in an agency news release.

One expert has a theory as to why the numbers haven’t budged since 2010.

“This probably reflects the fact that screening methods — which have been implemented in pediatric primary care as well as in early childhood centers — are identifying the correct number of children,” said Dr. Ron Marino, associate chair of pediatrics at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.

He believes that, prior to 2010, there was a “learning curve” among doctors when it came to properly diagnosing autism spectrum disorders.

The CDC noted that autism rates varied widely between communities. For example, black and Hispanic children are less likely to be identified with autism, or they receive development evaluations later, compared to white children, the agency said.

Better and more targeted methods are needed to spot minority kids with autism and make sure they are “connected to the services they need,” said study lead author Daisy Christensen, a CDC epidemiologist.