1-in-44 U.S. Children Diagnosed With Autism, CDC Report Finds

No single factor has been identified as a cause for the increase in cases.

Amid increasing evidence of a number of environmental factors and consumers products that may impact the developing brains, a new study suggests the number of children with autism has continued to increase in recent years, with about one out of every 44 eight year olds qualifying for a diagnosis.

The rate of children diagnosed with autism has increased in the United States, according to the a report published this week in the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveillance Summaries..

The CDC used data from 11 communities in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network to conduct an analysis of 2018 data. The CDC’s ADDM is a tracking system that provides estimates of the prevalence and characteristics of autism among 8-year-old and 4-year-old children in 11 communities in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Prior research indicated the prevalence of autism diagnosis among 8-year-olds was 1 in 54 children, and this new study suggests the rate has increased to 1 in 44 children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2018.

The prevalence of ASD ranged from 1 in 60 children in Missouri to 1 in 26 8-year-olds among children in California. Researchers suggest the variations in prevalence could be due to how communities identify children with autism.

A second report on children born in 2014, 4-year-olds, in the same 11 communities found that early identification of children with ASD was increasing. Children in these communities were 50% more likely to receive an autism diagnosis or special education classification by 3 years old compared to children born in 2010.

In several of the 11 communities, fewer Latino children were identified with autism than Black or white children. The data indicated a higher percent of Black children with autism were identified with intellectual disability compared to white or Latino children.

Researchers said this may relate to access to services that diagnose and support children with autism. Early diagnosis is key to helping children receive services and support for ASD as early as possible to help with school, behavioral or home issues. It helps children with ASD develop independence and engage with the world around them.

Despite early diagnosis and increased access to screening, researchers are still unsure why the increase in cases of autism has occurred.

In recent years side effects of a number of drugs, chemicals and environmental factors have been linked to potential increased autism risks, including epidural during labor, taking Tylenol while pregnant, exposure to chlorpyrifos, or the common pesticide known as Roundup, none of these factors appears to be a primary cause.

The potential side effects of chlorpyrifos exposure have been a concern for decades, and use of the product in household settings was banned in 2001. However, the pesticide is still used on more than 40,000 farms in the U.S. on about 50 different types of crops, including almonds and grapes.

Since 2014, studies have linked the chemical to a variety of side effects, which may damage developing brains and reduce intelligence, ultimately causing the pesticide to make it on a list of 11 chemicals identified as developmental neurotoxins. Researchers have made strong connections that chlorpyrifos, along with other chemicals, may cause neurodevelopmental disabilities in children, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia.

The findings also come amid growing concern over the presence of toxic heavy metals in many brand-name baby food products, which may cause children to face an increasing risk of autism.

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Toxic baby food sold by Gerber, Beech-Nut and other manufacturers contain dangerous levels of heavy metals, which may be the cause of autism and severe ADHD for children.

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In February, a U.S. Congressional report found that some baby foods contain high levels of toxic metals, with more than 91 times the maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water; 177 times the allowable levels of lead, 69 times the limits on cadmium, and five times the levels of allowable mercury.

Although the manufacturers claim their products are safe and appropriately labeled, the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have long maintained that exposing infants and children to toxic heavy metals can cause a permanent decrease in IQ, an increased risk of future criminal and antisocial behavior, and untreatable and frequently permanent brain damage.

Since the Congressional subcommittee report was released, manufacturers have faced a growing number of toxic baby food lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide.

There is no definitive data indicating cause and effect regarding various exposures and autism in this new CDC report. And some experts have suggested the increase is simply due to better diagnosis and awareness. However, researchers emphasize early diagnosis is key to helping children with ASD live full and healthy lives.

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