More kids have autism than thought: U.S. study

More kids have autism than thought: U.S. study

You may have heard the oft-quoted statistic that autism affects 1 in 150 US children. Turns out it’s more like 1 in 91 — and about 1 in 58 boys, according to new figures released Sunday.

That’s an estimated 673,000 US children — or approximately 1 percent of all U.S. kids, the researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and Harvard Medical School, Boston report in the journal Pediatrics.

Bob Wright, co-founder of the autism advocacy group Autism Speaks, told Reuters Health he’s not at all surprised by the new figures. “We’ve been screaming about the numbers going up; now there is a relatively complete recognition of it.”

“The statistical aspect of autism is just staggering,” he said, and not enough is being done about it. “If we had 1 in 58 boys getting swine flu, the country would be crazy,” Wright said.

Autism is a brain disorder characterized by problems with social interaction, repetitive behavior and other symptoms. People with a mild version called Asperger’s syndrome usually function relatively well in society, although they have problems relating to others. People with the most extreme symptoms may be unable to speak and may also suffer severe mental illness and retardation.

No one knows what causes autism — it’s generally thought to have genetic and environmental triggers — and there is currently no good treatment.

Autism is “an urgent public health concern,” Dr. Ileana Arias, deputy director of CDC, told reporters on a conference call Friday ahead of public release of the data.

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