MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. – New data shows the number of children diagnosed with autism has risen by 30 percent in two years, which some Westchester residents attribute to doctors diagnosing more children and milder cases.
The national Centers for Disease Control used data collected from its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, which it uses to track the prevalence of autism in 8-year-old children in 11 states. From that sample of 363,749 children, the CDC determined one in 68 have autism, up from one in 88 two years earlier. It was one in 110 in 2006 and one in 150 in 2004.
“I think it’s a combination of increases in knowledge and diagnosis,” said Stan Sheppard, who lives in Port Chester and was shopping in Mount Kisco, and whose wife is an educator and works with autistic students. “People are more aware of the symptoms and the spectrum.”
Bedford resident Susan Pope is a supervisor at a foster care agency in Manhattan, and said a lot more of the children she sees today are diagnosed with autism than 15 years ago.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that impairs social, communication and language functions, which vary and might develop early in life or over time.
Different studies have suggested that autism could be caused by genetics or environmental factors during pregnancy, or some combination of both.
A study released Thursday by the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of San Diego shows there may be a common disruption in parts of the brain essential to the social functions that autism impairs during the second and third trimester.
“So what we found was very interesting because it suggests there could be a common underlying biology that is there at the beginning,” said Eric Courchesne, director of the Autism Center of Excellence and author of the study. “That will really help the search for the original triggers that cause autism. And it changes the direction of research from post-natal to pre-natal.”
George Walker, a scientist from Chappaqua, said focusing the research is critical, referencing Courchesne’s research. Revealing the triggers could lead to earlier detection and treatment for children with autism, he said.
His wife said they know an autistic man who used to collect carts at a grocery store in town and turned 50 last year. He always remembered their names and was “extremely bright and has a wonderful sense of humor,” she said.
"This recent and rapid increase in ASD prevalence underscores the importance of continuing surveillance to monitor trends in the population and the need to continue expanding research into risk factors, etiology, and effective interventions," according to the CDC report.