New CDC estimate: 1 in 110 children has autism

December 18, 2009 That statistic is a small change from numbers first released in October. However, it does show a marked increase from previous years in the number of children with the illness.

Until recently, the CDC has used a statistic indicating that autism occurs in one in 150 children.

The increase may be due to better diagnosis of autism and changes in how well records of it are kept.

The newly released study shows a startling 50 percent jump in cases in just two years.

Autism is a brain disorder that interferes with communication and social skills. Some say the study indicates it is past time for the CDC to treat the autism epidemic with the national emergency status it deserves and act with crisis-level response.

Oak Park resident Christine Blakey is the mother of three boys, one of which is 10-year-old Charlie, who is autistic. Blakey says, years ago, the illness was far less common.

"The CDC is now saying what parents, doctors, and teachers have been saying for years, which is that we are in the midst of an autism explosion," said Christine Blakey

Dr. Peter J. Smith, assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, specializes in the treatment of autism.

"I wouldn't call it an epidemic. I would say there's a definite increase in the number of children who are reported as having autism, and the differences, in terms of numbers reported, vary a great deal across different states and in different ways," Smith said.

The study found that autism cases were four to five times higher among boys than girls.

There is no cure for autism. However, the study revealed that intensive early treatment can help many children with the disorder.

Blakey discovered her child was autistic when he was 3-years-old.

The study revealed that treatment costs an average of $50,000 each year. Blakey says that figure is low.

"The window never closes. So, it's never too late to get help for your child. Early intervention is crucial," Blakey said.

"Services for the child and services for the family, most studies would suggest that that improves the child's overall self-fulfillment," said Smith.

The study also indicated that the cause of autism is still not known. Researchers are looking at genetic differences and possible environmental triggers.

Despite, research showing vaccines do not cause autism, Blakey has believed for years that the content of mercury in infant vaccines may be a culprit.

"It is not just genetic, and we need to be spending a lot of resources looking for the cause or causes of the disorder," she said. "Clearly, we have to be looking at vaccines more closely."

"We don't know enough about autism. It's likely there are different kinds of things to cause autism. And, historically here at the University of Chicago, there were people who thought parents were causing it, and one thing we know is that that is not the case," said Dr. Smith.

Blakey believes diet, food, vaccinations and environment need to be looked at closely when examining the rise in autism.

Both mothers and doctors believe more research needs to be done, more money needs to go for autism, and more help is needed for families facing this problem.

The study said the vast majority of children with autism showed symptoms before age 3, but identification is often not made until later.

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