Autism: An Epidemic

May 10th, 2013
in econ_news, syndication

Updated: 4:12 am 10 May 2013

Econintersect:  Autism was once thought to be a rare disorder.  But in the past two autism-captio-graphicdecades the diagnosed incidence has sky-rocketed more than  20-fold to about 1 in 88 (1.13%) for all children and 1 in 54 (1.85%) for boys.  According to a CDC study covering the years 1997-2008 autism accounted for approximately 3.4% of all developmental disabilities (DD) in the U.S.  During those years the prevalence of any DD was 13.87% and for autism 0.47%.  However, data reported for the year 2008 only reported the occurrence of autism had increased by 2.4X to the 1.13% figure mentioned previously.

Follow up:

The table below shows a compilation of data reported by the CDC for diagnosis in specific years in the 21st century.


The short video below briefly explains autism.

Click on image to watch video.autism-video-la-times


The map below from the Los Angeles Times in December 2011 shows the wide variation of incidence of autism across the U.S. for children 6-17 years of age.

Click on map for larger image.autismmap

Is it logical to call autism an epidemic when the incidence is under 2% in most countries around the world?  A comparison can be made to HIV/AIDS which has a prevalence of 0.6% in the U.S. and from 1% to as high as 15% over many countries of Africa.  Another comparison can be made to Lyme Disease which occurs in the U.S. primarily in 13 states.  Although it is considered to be an epidemic in several of those states the highest prevalence in 2011 was only 0.08% (Delaware and Maine) and the highest level ever was 0.11% (2009 in Delaware).

Perhaps the best comparisons are to cancer.  The annual prevalence for breast cancer is 0.12%, for prostate cancer 0.15% and for male lung cancer 0.07%.  These are the most common reported cancers.  The total for all cancers in the U.S. is 0.46% per year.

If autism is not an epidemic then cancer is far from an epidemic.

There are study results which have identified genetic risk factors for autism.  From the CDC summary:

Risk Factors and Characteristics

  • Studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has an ASD, then the other will be affected about 36-95% of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has an ASD, then the other is affected about 0-31% of the time. [1-4]
  • Parents who have a child with an ASD have a 2%–18% chance of having a second child who is also affected.[5,6]
  • ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions. About 10% of children with autism are also identified as having Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and other genetic and chromosomal disorders.[7-10]
  • The majority (62%) of children the ADDM Network identified as having ASDs did not have intellectual disability (intelligence quotient <=70). [Read article]

The Los Angeles times has an interesting historical timeline for autism which starts in 1940.

Hat tip to Russell Huntley.

Updated, 4:12 am 10 May 2013 with input from Roger Erickson.

Many grassroots autism activist groups are calling the rate of occurrence "catastrophic".  On World Autism day (30 March 2013) they called for urgent action before the rate grows even higher.


  • Autism rates by state ( Anthony Pesc, Sandra Poindexter, Doug Smith and Alan Zarembo, Los Angeles Times, 09 December 2011)

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