Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
1 January 2003

CDC: Autism rates up in metro area


One in 300 children in metro Atlanta has autism, a rate nearly 10 times higher than found in most previous U.S. studies, a new report finds.

Researchers say the increase stems in part from a broader definition of the disease, more available services and heightened public awareness, but it also may indicate a growing prevalence of autism in Atlanta and across the country.

The Atlanta rate is not thought to be higher than the national average but rather a better reflection of the true rate nationwide.

The study, conducted by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported in today's Journal of the American Medical Society, is part of a CDC effort to determine baseline rates so scientists can see if the disease is on the rise, as many claim.

No national rate has been established for autism, a developmental disorder marked by poor language and social skills.

Previous studies in Arkansas, North Dakota and Utah found about 1 in 2,750 children with autism. Those studies were smaller and done mostly before 1991, when the U.S. Department of Education extended special education services to autism, increasing attention to the disease.

The definition of autism also changed in 1994 to include milder forms of the disease, such as Asperger syndrome, in which children lack social skills but are often highly verbal.

The only other population-based study of autism rates in the United States was in 1998 in New Jersey. The small study in one township found 1 in 150 children had autism, but community concern about a possible upswing in the disease is believed to have influenced the findings.

Atlanta is the first of 13 communities across the country in which the CDC is compiling autism rates. Researchers reviewed records at schools, doctors' offices and social service agencies in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties from 1996 and found 987 autistic children out of 290,000 children ages 3 to 10.

Rates among blacks and whites were the same, and autistic boys outnumbered girls 4 to 1.

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, lead author of the CDC study, said the broader definition of autism and growing public awareness account for part of the higher rate.

Many teachers, pediatricians and social workers nationwide reported soaring autism cases in the 1990s. But CDC officials say those figures may be misleading because they measure the number of children enrolling in services and not actual occurrence of disease.

"We started getting calls in the 1990s from around the country, in rural and urban areas, from people saying, 'What's going on here? We've never had so many children come in for autism services,' " said Gail McGee, director of Emory University's Autism Center.

The center saw 900 patients last year, up from 100 a decade before.

There is no cure for autism, but behavioral therapy often reduces the problems.





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