A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study suggests that autism cases are rising sharply – or that more cases are being discovered.
But it does not answer questions about the mysterious causes of the disorder.
The new study, released Thursday, shows the prevalence of the disorder increased by about 20 percent from 2006 to 2008. One in 88 children in the United States are now diagnosed with autism, up from 1 in 110.
"This represents about a 23 percent increase in the previous rate,” said Susan Kabot, executive director of the Autism Institute at Nova Southeastern University’s Mailman Segal Center for Human Development in Davie. “Our medical community is responding to the increasing number.”
The study says that autism is much more common among boys than girls, with 1 in 54 boys diagnosed.
Some of the overall increase is due to the way children are identified, diagnosed and served in their communities, according to the CDC. But exactly how much is due to these factors is unknown, along with the actual cause.
"That is really the scary part of this disorder, is that we're really not sure what causes it,” Kabot said.
Medical experts know there's a genetic component linked to autism. The National Autism Association says it goes further than genetics, and in a statement Thursday it called for the government to focus on studying “environmental cofactors.” It also said further research on the increased use of vaccines is needed.
Kabot says in Broward County more children under the age of 3 are showing characteristics of the disorder.
“And they're saying at any given time in our community there are about 120 children who look like they will be falling into the autism spectrum,” she said. “I think that the only thing to do is be a good observer of your child, to talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns.”