Autism spectrum disorder dramatically increasing, early intervention crucial

Leading Autism Advocacy Organization Calls for Dramatic Increase in Funding for Research and Services

In the wake of today's new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stating that autism now affects 1% or 1 in every 110 American children, Autism Speaks, North America's largest autism science and advocacy organization, called on the U.S. government to immediately step up its efforts - and dramatically increase funding - to address the growing global autism public health crisis.

Autism Speaks Canada echoed the calls for action.

"These study results are a wake up call. Autism is a national public health crisis in Canada as well. Leading researchers in Canada tell us that our prevalence statistics do not differ significantly from what the CDC is reporting. All players, including our federal and provincial governments need to make addressing autism a much higher priority - now, more than ever. We know and families affected by autism know this is a crisis that needs attention. Autism Speaks Canada is ready to work with all partners to effect change for families directly impacted and for the larger autism community," said Suzanne Lanthier, Executive Director of Autism Speaks Canada.

The CDC report, published in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), states that 1% or 1 in every 110 children has been diagnosed with autism, including 1 in 70 boys. This represents a staggering 57 percent increase in the rate of diagnosis from 2002 to 2006 and a 600 percent increase in the rate of diagnosis in just the past 20 years. Other significant findings include that a broader definition of ASDs does not account for the increase, and while improved and earlier diagnosis accounts for some of the increase, it does not fully account for the increase. Thus, a true increase in the risk for ASD cannot be ruled out. Even though parents typically express concerns about their child's developmental progress before age three, the average age of diagnoses is not until 53 months, although diagnoses are occurring earlier than found in the 2002 study. The report uses the same methodology that produced the CDC's 2007 prevalence findings of 1 in 150 children with autism.

"This study provides strong evidence that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is, in fact, dramatically increasing," said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer, who noted that recent research indicates that a significant amount of the increase in autism prevalence cannot be explained by better, broader or earlier diagnosis. "We have learned a lot about autism during the past five years. However, most of the critical questions about the factors that cause the many manifestations of autism - and how we can better treat this disorder - remain unanswered."

Dr. Stephen Scherer, Director of the University of Toronto McLaughlin Centre and the Toronto Centre for Applied Genomics at The Hospital for Sick Children, and a member of Autism Speaks' Scientific Advisory Committee stated, "All of our research findings indicate autism is a complex disorder, but we are now starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together opening up opportunities for new diagnostics and interventions. While these recent CDC statistics still need to be studied from every angle, there is no ignoring that even more families will be seeking solutions. We need to intensify our research and further improve outcomes."

"Families desperately want access to services and supports that are, at this point, grossly inadequate to meet the current and growing needs of people with autism. That must change quickly, before our society becomes overwhelmed by the demand for these services in the coming years and decades. The rising prevalence among the youngest people with ASD and a growing demand for housing, work skills and opportunities, healthcare, and other services that simply do not exist for adults with ASD is what we are facing and what we need to address now. We simply cannot wait any longer to take action," Lanthier added.

"There are too many children with autism who are being diagnosed at six, seven or even eight years of age, which is far too late for them to experience the maximum benefits of early intervention services," said Dawson. "Clearly, we need to do a better job of diagnosing children as early as possible - ideally by age two. We know that early intervention can make a critical difference in a child's outcome." Autism Speaks has committed more than $141 million to date to fund global research into the causes, diagnosis and treatment for autism through 2014. It is currently funding research into potential genetic and environmental factors involved with autism, as well as improved methods of early diagnosis and new treatment models.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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