The data show that about 11 in every 1,000 8-year-old children have now been diagnosed with autism, a 23 percent increase since the last report in 2009.
One hopeful sign: there are more early diagnoses, which can aid in treatment, experts noted. The CDC said that more children are now being diagnosed by the age of 3. Among children born in 1994, just 12 percent of cases were being diagnosed by that age, but for children born in 2000 that number increased to 18 percent.
Of course, the severity of an autism spectrum disorder can vary depending on the child. About 9 percent of those with autism are what is called "high-functioning," about 44 percent have the most serious form of the condition and 47 percent have various milder forms of autism, Roithmayr noted.
He added that there is a panel, set up by the American Psychiatric Association, that is currently looking at changing the definition of autism. Such a change could affect these numbers and will be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the "bible" of psychological disorders used by psychiatrists worldwide.
Shrinking the definition of autism is bound to meet with controversy, however. "It is imperative that DSM5 not exclude anyone on the spectrum," Roithmayr said. "If it does, we are going on a big offensive."
Autism has other costs, too. According to Autism Speaks, the financial burden related to autism has tripled over the past six years. Based on these new numbers, the group estimated that the annual price tag for autism in the United States will reach $137 billion, he said. "This is a national emergency," Roithmayr said, and he believes insurance companies must do more to help parents shoulder the cost of caring for a child affected by autism.
All of this points to the need for more funding for
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