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Autism among American children and teens surged 50% in three years

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Autism among U.S. children and teens rose 50% in three years from 2017, with one in 30 children diagnosed in 2020, study finds

  • About one in 30 children and adolescents in America has autism, a new study finds
  • Autism rates in America increased by 50% between 2017 and 2020, after a sharp drop from 2016 to 2017
  • The US and Europe often have higher autism rates than other countries due to better surveillance of the condition
  • Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, and children who are poor or black are also at higher risk

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The number of children in the United States diagnosed with autism has exploded in recent years, a new study shows.

Researchers Guangdong Pharmaceutical University, in China, found that 3.49 percent of U.S. children and adolescents — or about one in every 30 — had autism by 2020.

This is a sharp increase of 52 percent from the 2.29 percent of young people in America who had the condition in 2017.

While the research team didn’t provide an exact reason for the jump, many experts have speculated that the increase is related to parents’ understanding of the early signs of autism and increased monitoring of the condition.

Just under 3.5% of children and adolescents in the United States have autism, a figure that has increased by about 50% since 2017.  Experts say this is likely due to increased surveillance of the condition

Just under 3.5% of children and adolescents in the United States have autism, a figure that has increased by about 50% since 2017. Experts say this is likely due to increased surveillance of the condition

Researchers, who presented their findings on Tuesday JAMA Pediatricscollected data from the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

The survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducts household interviews and targeted screenings to learn more about the health of the average household.

In 2014, the NHIS found that 2.24 percent of children and adolescents in America had autism.

THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills that usually develop before age three and last throughout a person’s life.

Specific signs of autism include:

  • Reactions to smell, taste, appearance, feel, or sound are unusual
  • Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
  • Unable to repeat or repeat what is said to them
  • Difficulty expressing desires with words or movements
  • Unable to talk about their own feelings or those of others
  • Difficulty with acts of affection such as hugging
  • Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
  • Difficulty getting along with other people
  • Unable to point or look at objects when others are pointing at them

The figure grew gradually, reaching 2.76 percent in 2016. In 2017, it fell sharply from to 2.44 percent.

It then grew steadily over the next three years, until the most recent 2020 NHIS data shows that 3.49 percent of American youth are on the spectrum.

Researchers note that the US and Europe generally have higher autism rates than the rest of the world, probably because of better screening and diagnosis.

Nearly five percent of young boys had autism, compared to just under two percent of girls.

Children who are black, come from a family in poverty or have a higher educated family are most likely to be diagnosed.

The reasons for these discrepancies have not been established, but experts have long known that boys, in particular, are more likely to be diagnosed with autism.

While the rising rate of autism may be alarming, some experts view them as more positive — believing that the number of people experiencing the condition has not increased, but is instead a sign of better surveillance.

In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children between 18 months and two years of age be screened for autism.

As the number of screenings and diagnostic tests increased, so did the number of detected cases.

The average parent is now more aware of common early signs of autism than in years past, and may recognize things like failure to maintain eye contact, poor communication skills, and the inability to operate outside of structure as signs.

The social stigma surrounding autism has also been learned, and many parents are much more willing to have their child screened without fear of negative social consequences.

Some experts do warn that there are some negative effects that children experience in the womb, which puts them at greater risk.

Experts warn that older parents, exposure to pollution in the womb, and even a mother who is obese during pregnancy may be linked to an increased chance of developing autism.