90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Autism Numbers Skyrocket

Reported autism rates skyrocket – one child in 88 now has an autism diagnosis. One in 54 boys. We’ll take a look behind the sobering numbers.

Christopher Astacio reads with his daughter Cristina, 2, recently diagnosed with a mild form of autism, in her bedroom on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 in New York.   Autism cases are on the rise again, largely due to wider screening and better diagnosis, federal health officials said Thursday, March 2012.  (AP)

Christopher Astacio reads with his daughter Cristina, 2, recently diagnosed with a mild form of autism, in her bedroom on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 in New York. Autism cases are on the rise again, largely due to wider screening and better diagnosis, federal health officials said Thursday, March 2012. (AP)

The new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control last week on autism were absolutely arresting.  In their latest survey, 1 in 88 American children were found diagnosed with autism and related disorders.  One in 54 American boys, on the autism spectrum.

The numbers were stunning in themselves, and far higher than prevalence rates found just a handful of years ago.  Maybe it’s all about rates of diagnosis.  Or ways of defining autism.  Maybe it’s not.  But it’s got our full attention.

This hour, On Point: how can so many American children have autism?

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

Glen Finland, a writer and mother of an autistic child, her new book is Next Stop: A Memoir. You can read an article about her son, David, which she wrote in the Washington Post here.

Highlights

The new numbers on autism are scary: One in 88 children falls someplace on the autism disorder spectrum, according to the latest from the Centers for Disease Control. “We do have a public health crisis,” said Geraldine Dawson, the chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks. She called for a coordinated national response, more research, earlier screening, and better treatment.

While broader screening and more awareness are sources for the larger number of new autism diagnoses, that isn’t the full story. The source of 50 percent of new autism cases is of unknown origin, Dawson said, pointing to early research indicating that environmental factors including exposure to pesticides, air pollution, and other factors that could impact brain development and autism.

Others cite the preliminary nature of that research and counter that the jump in autism cases can best be explained by broader awareness and better screening. “20 to 30 years ago, no one knew what autism was. Nowadays, everyone knows what it is,” said pediatric neurologist Max Wiznitzler. “Parents are now walking in with children with any type of developmental disorder and wondering: Is it autism?”

Autism like many other development disorders is a neurological condition, which means that it is diagnosed by behavior and not by, for instance, a biopsy or blood test. Different interpretations can lead to different diagnoses.

“I’m not surprised [at the new numbers],” said Wiznitzer. “Our diagnostic criteria are being applied more liberally, which means it’s a much expanded group of individuals, especially when they are looking at individuals with social impairments. But the other thing is that we’re getting better at identifying them.”

The critical point is to identify developmental disorders, regardless of the final classification both doctors agreed. Indeed, each person with autism is unique from their peers. “As we say in the autism community, once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” said author Glen Finland, whose new memoir Next Stop details her family’s experiences raising an autistic son.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “The new report estimates that in 2008 one child in 88 received one of these diagnoses, known as autism spectrum disorders, by age 8, compared with about one in 110 two years earlier. The estimated rate in 2002 was about one in 155.”

NPR “The rapid rise prompted calls to declare the developmental disorder an epidemic. “This is a national emergency in need of a national plan,” Mark Roithmayr, president of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, said at a CDC media briefing Thursday.”

Excerpt: Next Stop

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Apr 21, 2015
U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., third right, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, leading a delegation of U.S. lawmakers, talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third left, at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. (AP)

TPP. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is headed onto the fast track for a vote now. We’ll look at the big trade-pact and big debate around it. Plus, the latest on the boat migrant crisis in Europe.

Apr 21, 2015
The cover of Kate Boldick's new book, "Spinster: Making A Life Of One's Own." (Crown Publishing)

With over 50% of American women unmarried— we’ll look at the push to reclaim the word “spinster” – to be single and proud of it.

RECENT
SHOWS
Apr 20, 2015
New York Times columnist David Brooks explores a history of American moral character in his new book, "The Road to Character." Former US Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (R), is one of the subjects he profiles in his books. (David Burnett / AP)

New York Times columnist David Brooks on finding moral character in a self-preoccupied society.

 
Apr 20, 2015
A member of a bomb squad pulls something off of a small helicopter and throws it after a man landed on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 15, 2015.  A Florida postal carrier named Doug Hughes took responsibility for the stunt on a website where he said he was delivering letters to all 535 members of Congress in order to draw attention to campaign finance corruption. (AP)

We’ll take up the gyrocopter pilot’s complaint. Big money politics in America, on the road to 2016. And what to do about it.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Three LIVE Tracks From Flor De Toloache
Friday, Apr 17, 2015

Fantastic live tracks from the amazing women of Flor de Toloache.

More »
1 Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: April 17, 2015
Friday, Apr 17, 2015

Interactions on Facebook, campaign time begins and a truck full of bees.

More »
2 Comments
 
Parents Speak Out On Autism Care ‘Cliff’
Thursday, Apr 16, 2015

Stories of autism care for adults from our callers and, maybe, from you, too.

More »
4 Comments