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Researchers: One out of every 68 U.S. children has autism

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One in 68 U.S. children has autism, a 30 percent rise over the last estimate released in 2012, health authorities said Thursday.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised concern and sparked calls for early screening, as well as more research and investment.

Autism is a developmental disorder that has no known cause or cure. It affects people of all races with a range of difficulties in social, emotional and communication skills.

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Recent research suggests the disorder may originate in the womb, and could be linked to defects that arise during prenatal brain growth.

The “proportion of children with autism and higher IQ (is) on the rise,” the CDC said in a statement.

Previously, as many as one in 88 US children were known to have autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.

The findings were based on diagnoses of eight-year-olds at 11 U.S. sites in 2010.

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The prevalence of autism varied widely, from one in 175 children in Alabama to one in 45 children in New Jersey.

The data continued to show that autism is five times more common in boys than in girls. In the United States, one in 42 boys is diagnosed with autism, compared to one in 189 girls.

– Reasons unclear –

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The reasons for the rise were unclear, but the CDC said the criteria used to diagnose autism spectrum disorder and the methods used to collect data have not changed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that said the CDC report shows the “urgent need” for better screening and intervention strategies.

“It’s critical that we as a society do not become numb to these numbers,” said Susan Hyman, chair of the AAP autism subcommittee.

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“They remind us of the work we need to do in educating clinicians and parents in effective interventions for all children, including those with developmental disabilities.”

The CDC report also found that most children were diagnosed after age four, although the disorder can be identified by age two.

Symptoms of developmental delays at age one could include not saying “mama” or “dada,” not crawling, or not being able to point or wave, the CDC said on its website.

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By age two, signs could include not following instructions, being unable to say two-word phrases like “drink milk,” not knowing what to do with common objects like a fork and spoon, or losing skills the child once had.

“Community leaders, health professionals, educators and childcare providers should use these data to ensure children with ASD are identified as early as possible and connected to the services they need,” said Coleen Boyle, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the House Global Health Subcommittee and co-chairman of the bipartisan Coalition on Autism Research and Education, called the CDC report “deeply disturbing” and an “ominous trend.”

“The bottom line: more children, more families are struggling with autism and the federal government must do more to help.”

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[Image: “A boy with autism clapping his hands,” via Shutterstock]


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Scientists shed light on how brains turn pain up or down

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Pain perception is essential for survival, but how much something hurts can sometimes be amplified or suppressed: for example, soldiers who sustain an injury in battle often recall not feeling anything at the time.

A new study published in Cell Reports on Tuesday honed in on the brain circuitry responsible for upgrading or downgrading these pain signals, likening the mechanism to how a home thermostat controls room temperature.

Yarimar Carrasquillo, the paper's senior author and a scientist for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), told AFP the region responsible was the central amygdala, which according to her work appeared to play a dual role.

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US House passes Hong Kong ‘Democracy Act’

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The US House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday sought by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong that aims to defend civil rights in the semi-autonomous territory, prompting an angry response from China.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will now move to the Senate before it can become law, has drawn rare bipartisan support in a polarized Congress.

The law would end the Hong Kong-US special trading status unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.

China expressed "strong indignation" over the passing of the act, which also requires the US president to identify and sanction people who are responsible for the erosion of autonomy and serious abuses of human rights in Hong Kong.

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2020 Election

Rising star Warren weathers attacks at Democratic White House debate

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Surging White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren faced a barrage of attacks from fellow Democrats at the party's fourth 2020 debate Tuesday, cementing her status as a frontrunner in the race to challenge Donald Trump.

The president himself loomed large as the dozen Democratic contenders trained their fire on him, calling for his impeachment and assailing a Syria troop pullout that Joe Biden slammed as "shameful."

"The impeachment must go forward," thundered Warren, the progressive senator who is neck and neck with former vice president Biden at the head of the 2020 nomination race -- a stance loudly echoed by her fellow Democrats on stage.

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