Breaking News

Autism may be more prevalent than previously believed

March 27, 2013

Staff Report

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may indicate that autism prevalence rates — currently at 1 in every 88 school-age children — may be understated. The report, released March 20 by the CDC’s National Centers for Health Statistics, indicates that the prevalence rate may be as high as 1 in every 50 school-age children.

While more research is needed, the new results do reflect the experience of The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) network partners, according to the program’s director, Tara Glavin-Javaid of The Hope Institute for Children and Families. The Hope Institute serves as the lead agency for the TAP network.

We have long suspected that the CDC’s prevalence rate of 1 in 88 is understated based on evidence we are seeing in the field,” Glavin-Javaid said. “Demand for autism services is increasing, and a number of our 16 TAP centers across Illinois have established waiting lists for those services in highest demand. At our Springfield Center, the number of children enrolled in social skills groups has doubled, and there is a waiting list for diagnostic services.

While this evidence is preliminary, and it is too early to discard the 1 in 88 figure, the new data certainly add to the field of knowledge and tend to confirm our observations at the clinical level,” Glavin-Javaid concluded.

Internationally known researcher Dr. Bennett Leventhal, one of the founders of TAP when it began 10 years ago, said: “These are interesting findings that are consistent with a previous study of Autism in Korea by Dr. Young-Shin Kim of the Yale Child Study Center and her collaborators. However, there are major differences between the two studies. First of all, this CDC report is a prevalence of 2 percent, whereas the Korean study reported 2.6 percent. But, the major difference is that this study is a survey of parents and not a multi-informant, total population study. A more extensive total population study would count others and would likely increase the prevalence even further.

It is important to note that this is a ‘prevalence’ study, which means a count of the number of people with ASD at a particular point in time,” Dr. Leventhal added. “This is not an ‘incidence’ study. Incidence is a measure of the number of new cases. In other words, this study does not tell us if the number of ASD cases is really increasing, or if we are just counting more.”

Karen G. Foley, president and CEO of The Hope Institute for Children and Families, noted that the data also confirmed the importance of early detection and intervention.

Data confirmed that much of the increased prevalence occurred as a result of new diagnoses, which are happening at earlier ages,” Foley said. “Not surprisingly, those children receiving early diagnosis and treatment are experiencing better outcomes. The message for policymakers is clear: despite our state’s fiscal crisis, this is NOT the time to cut vitally-needed funding for autism services. Rather, this is the time for public and private funders to come together in support of best practices and systems of care — like the TAP network model — that can be replicated across our nation.”

Funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services, The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) is the largest statewide autism service and resource network in the nation. The efficacy of the TAP model has been confirmed by researchers from Baylor University.

From the March 27-April 2, 2013, issue

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