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Why Has Autism Rates in Children Soared?

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among children has witnessed a dramatic and consistent increase since the 1990s. Efforts by researchers continue to help determine the factors that contribute to this and ascertain when the rise started.

In April 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that autism affects one in every 36 children in the United States.


That number has risen considerably since the CDC began keeping track of autism incidence in 1996. In 2000, the figure was 1 in 150 children, followed by 1 in 88 children in 2008, and further increased to 1 in 44 children in 2018.

The global rate of autism diagnosis appears to be growing as well. In 2012, autism prevalence across the world was estimated at 6 in 1000. The most recent study estimates global frequency to be about 1 in 100. However, the most recent study suggests a global prevalence of approximately 1 in 100.

There's not one cause for this increase, but a combination of multiple factors is likely the reason for it.


Contact JarvisHypnotherapy to help you manage the challenges and struggles of being parents of an autistic child. Seeking professional intervention in How Parents of Autistic Children Can Cope helps you understand and improve your family dynamics in embracing autism as part of your daily life.


So, why have the rates of autism soared?


1. Increased awareness.

The surge can be attributed to growing parental awareness, prompting more parents to seek evaluations for their children. Plus, more education among mental health professionals about identifying autism symptoms has increased the likelihood of referrals and diagnoses. The prevalence of autism screening, regardless of observable symptoms, has also played a role. Research shows that the increase in autism diagnoses is correlated with a decline in diagnoses of learning and intellectual disabilities, suggesting a shift where children who might have previously received the latter diagnoses are now being identified with autism.


2. Shift in diagnostic criteria.

This has changed over the years resulting in broader criteria that now include milder presentations of autism.


3. Increased access to services.

Availability of services for autism has improved over time. This motivated more people to seek diagnosis so they could access the available services.


4. More preterm infants.

Advances in neonatal medicine have enabled more extremely preterm newborns (born before 28 weeks) to live. While these medical advances are crucial, they may also be associated with the escalating rates of autism, given that premature and low birth weight babies are more likely to develop autism. Furthermore, there are indications that the rates of prematurity (babies born before 37 weeks) are on the rise in certain countries, including the U.S.


5. Possible external factors.

The origin or reason for autism remains unidentified, although research suggests a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Notably, having an autistic sibling increases a child's susceptibility to the condition.

Additional findings indicate specific environmental elements that occur before or during birth, as shown in a study by Karimi et al. (2017). These factors include:

- Prenatal exposure to air pollution or certain pesticides

- Advanced parental age

- Maternal diabetes, immune system disorders, or obesity

- Birth complications resulting in periods of oxygen deprivation to the infant's brain


Certain factors, among those discussed above, may be increasing –potentially contributing to a rise in autism rates. An example is the growing trend of women having their first child after the age of 35.


Numerous incorrect theories have emerged regarding environmental reasons for autism, such as poor nutrition, vaccines, cell phone usage, and "bad" parenting, among others. Note that all these theories have been disproved.

For now, there is no way to predict whether autism rates will continue to grow. As diagnostic criteria develop, the number of children who qualify for an autism diagnosis may increase or decrease.

Moreover, changes in environmental factors, such as delayed parenthood, can affect the prevalence of autism and related conditions associated with advanced parental age.

If you need a professional to help you navigate the difficulties of having an autistic family member, contact JarvisHypnotherapy today.





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