One in 88 U.S. children has been diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, according to new federal data. The rate has increased by more than 20 percent between 2006 and 2008, due in part to wider awareness and better screening. We look at the new numbers, and discuss the latest research on risk factors and causes.

Coleen Boyle, director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Sanford Newmark, head of the Pediatric Integrative Neurodevelopmental Program at UCSF
Cory Manalani, area director for Northern California for Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization
Shannon Des Roches Rosa, senior editor for "The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism," contributor to "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities" and contributing editor of "Parents of Children With Special Needs" at

  • Guest

    Too many doctors making too much money diagnosing too many children with autism. What a disgrace! 

    • Dlbruins

      Until you have dealt with issue, I would advise listening and learning about the condition,  It is very real and it is growing

  • Charlie

    I had an adult neighbor with Asperger’s. Real nice guy. One thing I noticed was that he had the most unique body odor – noticeable because I was frequently in his apartment. I always wondered if that was a symptom of his autism – perhaps the body processing things differently.

  • Chemist150

    I see this as a form of evolution.  Humans tend to resist evolution such as not allowing people with varying genetics which might match up differently to change the number of chromosomes like down syndrome people which would potentially create a new species.
    Gathering people who have abilities to maintain high levels of focus (i.e. such as in careers), they will concentrate in an area and their genetics defining brain structure and chemistry will combine in various ways.  Some will be constructive and some destructive.

    • Chemist150

      Also, multiple factors can cause the same external symptoms.  Given one pool of patients, 10% could be one evironmental cause, 60% could be purely genetic and 30% a separate environmental cause.

  • Doughnut1

    “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism” was one source, among many others, that helped me accept my PDD-NOS daughter for who she was and quit trying to “recover” her through extremely restrictive diets, expensive supplements of questionable efficacy, and  worthless homeopathic remedies. Thank you Shannon!  Keep fighting the good fight!

    • I’m glad for you and your daughter! Acceptance is so critical.

  • Ken Jaffee

    Is there a connection between Downs Syndrome and Autism? My nephew has Downs and will be 50 this June. It seems that many of his symptoms mirror what is described as Autism. It may seem trivial but can autistic kids participate in Special Olympics?

    • Christine Lindstrand

      Yes a child with autism can participate in Special Olympics.  Per Northern CA Special Olympics webiste:” Anyone diagnosed with intellectual disabilities who is 5 years old or older is eligible to participate.”

  • Doughnut1

    To Dr. Newmark: one such study on prevalence in adults

  • Guest

    Due to some knowledge of autism/asperger’s and a bit of anecdotal evidence, I suspect my father-in-law is on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.  is there any way to get a diagnosis as an adult or bring this up with the family?  Could heal some wounds…

    • Doughnut1

      Your FIL could contact a Psychologist/Psychiatrist.  Many have obtained a diagnosis as a result.  It could be costly, however

    • coconut

      I believe my husband is on the low end of the autisum spectrum and we’ve discussed it many times but he has no desire to get formally diagnosed. We’ve discussed it with family members and just knowing this could be a cause of some of his eccentric/arrogant/OCD type behavior helps us to have more understanding, patience and compassion for him. I would bring it up first with family members who you think would be open to hearing it. 

  • Steven Machtinger, MD

    The increased prevalence of autism has been paralleled by the introduction of fetal ultrasound into perinatal medicine. When my wife was pregnant, twice in the late 70’s and early 80’s, she received state-of-the-art care for the day and never had ultrasound. Today ultrasound, sometimes multiple ultrasounds during gestation, has become the norm. Several studies have reported no association with autism but such studies have involved less than 1000 pregnancies. With an incidence of 1 in a 100 or so children are such limited studies sufficient to reassure us about the safety of ultrasound on the developing nervous system of the fetus?


  • Peter

    I think its important with such a wide ranging spectrum disorder to focus more on treating children on an individual level and giving them the personal treatment specific to their own issues. Too often people try to group these kids together to be able to institutionalize the diagnosis and therapy.

    OTC (Occupational Therapy for Children) in Sacramento spends time treating kids on a child by child basis, innovating when nessicary to address the needs of all of their children and getting fantastic results.

    I would recomend any parent of an autistic child in the Sacramento area to look into OTC at the ABC school.

  • Doughnut1

    From a NHS (UK) report on adult incidence of Autism:

    “Using the recommended threshold of a score of 10 or more on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 1.0 per cent of the adult population had ASD. Published childhood population studies show the prevalence rate among children is also approximately 1.0 per cent.”–report-from-the-adult-psychiatric-morbidity-survey-2007

  • guest

    To Dr. Newmark: Please consider adding an Occupational Therapist to your staff. Numerous studies have been done to show the efficacy of Occupational Therapy. A good starting point is the which posts numerous scientific studies that have been done over the last 20+ years. OTs are essential to helping children on the spectrum improve their fine and gross motor delays as well as improve their response to sensory input. As a parent of a 9year old with Aspergers we saw amazing results from OT for our son. 

  • Drgraycestratton

    Early detection is imperative.  I would like to see greater acceptance of non-invasive brain mapping (quantitative EEG) as a component of the ASD diagnosis, for it converges with data from the observational approaches for diagnosis, frequently picks up the epilepsy that is there (not always….seizure must be occurring during time of EEG).  As the most researched intervention for autism is behavioral, everyone should be aware of EEG biofeedback for brain and central nervous system regulation.  When the CNS is better regulated, symptoms reduce and often completely remit. Educational/emotional interventions must occur throughout the chain of treatments.  However there is neural damage and other anomalies in autism. Consequently biomedical intervention must come before or along with everything else.   This is true for adults (see The Ultramind Solution by Mark Hyman, M.D.) Grayce Stratton, Psy.D., clinical psychologist, neuropsychologist, neurofeedback provider, early researcher contributing to development of ABA with Ivar Lovaas at UCLA. 

  • Mary

    Other online resources to consider for parents of kids on the spectrum: Parents can connect with other parents near them whose kids share similar diagnosis. It’s a social network for parents to find out autism specialists others use. 

  • Nancy Evans

    I emailed the following as questions but they were not answered.  The prevalence of autism has increased in parallel with the use of prenatal
    ultrasound, which causes heat, vibration, and significant auditory effects. Yale
    researchers found in animal research that exposure to pulsed ultrasound
    interfered with the migration of neurons from the site of origin to their
    permanent location in the cerebral cortex. What reason do we have to believe
    that this is not happening with developing humans?

    Researchers have found that In normal, uncomplicated pregnancies, prenatal
    ultrasound does not benefit mother or fetus. Why then has this practice become
    routine and why are unregulated non-medical facilities permitted to perform
    prenatal ultrasound and sell the sonograms as baby’s first

    Nancy Evans, Health Science Writer 

  • Fchumley

    Dr. Newmark’s comments often seemed sweeping and unscientific to me. He did not inspire confidence in this listener. For example, his comment about a study that purports to show that autism rates are higher among children born to women exposed to “pesticides”. Just like pharmaceuticals, chemicals that are used to protect our food supply from insects and diseases include a vast array of chemical structures, with an equally vast array of modes of action. Perhaps some pesticides could have an effect along the lines he alleged, but certainly not all of them. To talk in such vague and sweeping terms is unfortunately common among people who are either ignorant about the underlying science, or seeking to frighten people rather than inform them.

  • Lydia Briones, RN

    Each time I hear a report of another study that states a rise in Autism rates, I silently wonder, “What is being done to address this?”  So, I am asking outloud…What is being done to address this?  We have a 12 year with special needs & an IEP since Kinder and it has always amazed us that in spite of State & goverment beauracracy…there remains a fragile framework of support in the public school system.  There is  serious lack of collaboration between school staff and school & home, even when parents advocate for their child.  There is no real framework or standardized collaborative, stepwise approach for follow up from the pediatricians office. I am leaving at that for now…there is much history behind these lines.
    I am still grateful that the issue gets the attention it does get…It is a start.

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