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New CDC Report on Autism

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Dr. Meg Meeker

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention just released a startling new statistic on autism: 1 in 88 kids in the US have it. And boys are about five times more likely to be diagnosed with it than girls ( 1:252 compared to 1:54 for girls.) They also state that since 2007, there has been a 78% rise in children diagnosed with the disorder. I’d like to make a few points about this news because I think they’re salient.

First, for those who are still convinced that vaccines cause autism (specifically the MMR), look at the gender distribution. Significantly more boys are diagnosed with autism than are girls. If vaccines caused autism, we would see equal numbers of girls as boys diagnosed because sex wouldn’t make a difference. Unfortunately, there is so much bad, inaccurate information available on the internet that many parents don’t know what to believe. I encourage you to always go to legitimate science sites (like the CDC, WebMD, or UptoDate) when you are concerned about serious health issues.

Second, as a pediatrician who has taken care of thousands of kids over the years, including many children with autism, I can tell you that we are much better at diagnosing autism than we were ten years ago. Perhaps the one good result of the MMR scare and autism is that it heightened awareness of autism by everyone. That is a good thing. So, I do believe that those in health care fields are screening more diligently for autism and diagnosing it much better. This accounts for some of the rise on the numbers that we see.

Finally, my instincts tell me that we are experiencing a higher incidence not just because we’re better at diagnosing it, but because the incidence is really higher. This is just my instinct- great studies are underway to validate or negate this fact.

In the meantime, for those of you with young children, here are a few things to pay attention to if you are concerned that your child may have autism.

Here are some normal milestones that your child should reach:

  • 6 months- child recognizes parent’s face and smiles. Responds to parent’s voices.
  • 9 months-copies your facial gestures and may be frightened by stranger. Clings to Mom and Dad
  • 12 months-child plays social games like “bye-bye” and “peek-a-boo” with parent, tries to talk to you but babbles
  • 18 months- wants to interact with others-hands toys over, shakes head “no” when unhappy, affectionate with loved ones
  • 24 months- child gets excited when other kids around, points to objects you name, very interactive with parents

The most important thing is to trust your own gut feelings. If something feels off with your child, get him or her tested. If you have any questions at all, the best thing to do is make an appointment with your pediatrician and tell him/her your concerns about autism. Also, if you visit cdc.gov, there are many tools

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