Autism On The Decline, Diagnoses On The Rise

Autism is a disease that affect millions around the world and about 1 in 68 children.  The rate of Autism has steadily grown over the last 20 years. According to a new study in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, it is not Autism that's on the rise, it's actually Autism diagnoses. How we understand Autism Spectrum Disorder has evolved over the past 15 years. More children are being diagnosed with autism than ever before due to recent changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V).

Researchers mapped out the number of children that received and saw a benefit from special education during the years 2000-2010. They concluded the the number of special needs children remained constant over a decade but the number of children diagnosed with autism rose by a factor of 5. 

What does this suggest? Scientists believe the increase in autism cases stems from a shift in classification not in how many people have the disorder. In simpler terms, there may have always been that many autistic people in the U.S. but we didn't label them as "autistic." Now that we understand it more fully, we tend to diagnose it more often. 

The problem is diagnosis is very complex when it comes to autism and symptoms overlap with related disorders. Individualized care is truly the right approach in this case — every patient's case varies and must be treated as such. 


What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability  that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It alters the way a person communicates, interacts, behaves and learns. Learning, thinking and problem solving skills can range from what we call "gifted" to "severely challenge."

If someone is diagnosed with ASD, it includes several conditions:

  • autistic disorder
  • pervasive developmental disorder
  • Asperger syndrome 

Autism is difficult to diagnose. Many physicians observe an adult or child's behavior to determine disease. Many children do not receive a diagnosis until they are much older. 

Autism Risk Factors

Risk factors for Autism have been debated for many decades among medical experts. Most scientists agree that genetics plays a major role in developing the disease. 

Autism signs may include:

  • not pointing at objects to show interest (for example, not pointing at an airplane flying over)
  • not look at objects when another person points at them
  • trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • avoids eye contact and craves isolation
  • issue with understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled
  • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  • very interested in people, but unaware of how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them
  • have trouble expressing needs using typical words or motions
  • repeat actions over and over again
  • trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound