How Common Is Autism In Children?

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Autism is very common in children today, the prevalence has changed dramatically over the years. When I started in the field almost 40 years ago it was 2 in 10, 000, a very rare disorder, years later it increased to 4 in 10, 000 and 7 in 10, 000. Today it's 1 in 110, not a rare disorder whatsoever.

The question becomes why? Why the change in the prevalence? I think there's a number of factors why there's been a change. I think the most likely factors that are changing diagnostic criteria. Years ago it was a very narrow spectrum within the diagnosis, over the years as we understand autism better we see different manifestations of it and the criteria of why in tremendous rate you have features, what is called high-functioning children with autism, children that have fairly good language, have social interests, children that have obsessions.

Years ago these children would not receive the diagnosis of autism they would never have received any diagnosis, today they have that diagnosis of autism. That change in the features accounts for most of the change in the prevalence rates, but there's other examples, other reasons why too.

There's been elimination of diagnostic criteria, so diagnosis that's existed before like a child with schizophrenia no longer exists today, those children went to the diagnosis of autism. There's misunderstanding between mental retardation and autism we understand today that most children with autism don't have mental retardation.

Previously they would've received that diagnosis of mental retardation, today they receive a diagnosis of autism. There's more understanding about autism, TV shows, media talk about it consistently. As there is more discussion more parents become aware of Autism and seek the diagnosis, and then we look at treatment.

30 years ago, there was very few treatments available that were effective. Today that's not so. There's good treatments and schools, and mental health agencies, and so parents are seeking a diagnosis so their children get the right kinds of treatment. So these factors account for the change in autism.

Unfortunately, people are looking at other things that are out there to explain it, those that have no scientific validity whatsoever and we need to be careful. We need to be logical, we need to be critical thinkers and look why is there this increase? And the reason is right before us.