Why are Diagnosed Cases of Autism on the Rise?

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Rise in Autism Diagnosis

In 1978, U.S. government statistics held that the likelihood of a case of autism was 1 in 10,000 children. Currently, the number of diagnosed cases is 1 per 150 children overall, and 1 in every 94 boys. Characterized by social maladjustments and repetitious speech or motions, autism was once thought of as mental retardation or in some cases, a hearing impairment. The dramatic increase in case diagnosis is causing national alarm, as well as needed awareness of the condition and research funding for treatment and cure options.

Are Advances in Diagnosis the Reason for Rise in Autism Cases?

While 40 years ago children with the symptoms of autism were diagnosed as having a learning disability, the advances in diagnostic aids to determine if autism is present has certainly made an impact on the number of diagnosed cases. Several decades ago, there were no autism specialists, and many family doctors were unfamiliar with the condition or its symptoms, much less any hope for treatment. Currently, there are very specific criteria, of which a patient must display several, in each of several categories, to be diagnosed with autism. Furthermore, the medical community has cataloged specific symptoms of autism which include Aspergers syndrome, Rhett’s syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, each of which have their own regimen of treatment and prognosis for developmental improvements.

Are There Environmental Factors Affecting Autism Diagnosis?

While the most recent CDC investigations have concluded that there is no connection, there is an alarming correspondence of diagnosis of “regressive” autism and administration of MMR vaccinations. Regressive autism refers to the onset of symptoms of autism in children, typically between the ages of 18 and 24 months, that have been socially functioning and progressing at normal levels. These children suddenly display the common signs of autism through sudden changes in social behavior including repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms, a dramatic lack of eye contact, marked loss of interest in spontaneous and make-believe play and lack of interaction with others. In all of these cases, the children were outgoing, socially adjusted children who suddenly and inexplicably became withdrawn from the social stimuli around them. Parental testimony is charging that the changes in these children happened dramatically, and in many cases within 24 hours, after receiving their MMR vaccinations. Heartbroken parents believe that it is the effort to reduce medical costs by combining vaccinations, which used to be administered separately, that is causing some children to suffer the effects of autism as a result.

Fortunately, as the media attacks this subject and the issues become more widely scrutinized, there is a surging interest in funding research into the causes and potential treatments of autism. While the number of diagnosed cases continues to rise, researchers are hopeful that advances in diagnosis will bring earlier treatment to those afflicted with autism.


National Autism Association

Autism Society of America