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
Oct 31, 2014
Nurse Kaci Hickox, right, and her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur are followed by a Maine State Trooper as they ride bikes on a trail near her home in Fort Kent, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.  (AP)

Quarantines and Ebola. An exploding rocket. Apple’s CEO comes out. Hawaiian lava flows. Midterms in the home stretch. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Oct 31, 2014
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and Sauncho Smilax (Beninico del Toro) share a drink in a scene from the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, "Inherent Vice," an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. (Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment)

From “Interstellar” to “Into the Woods.” The biggest and best movies of the fall and holiday seasons. What to see, what to skip.

RECENT
SHOWS
Oct 30, 2014
Soylent is a new meal-replacement substance meant to offer a complete nutritional alternative to traditional food. (Courtesy Soylent)

Soylent is a grey smoothie the consistency of pancake batter that claims it can replace all your food. On a crowded planet, is this the future of food? Plus: what does the Antares rocket crash mean for private space travel?

 
Oct 30, 2014
Realtor Helen Hertz stands in front of one of her listings in Cleveland Heights, Ohio Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. Hertz, a real estate agent for more than three decades, has seen firsthand what has happened to the market in the wake of the recession and foreclosure crisis. (AP)

Home ownership rates are at a 20-year low. Millennials and more aren’t buying. We’ll look at what American’s think now about owning a home.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
The Explicast, Episode Three: What Is The Dow Jones Industrial Average?
Friday, Oct 31, 2014

We dig in to that all-important, all-confusing daily stock notice: the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

More »
Comment
 
Our Week In The Web: October 31, 2014
Friday, Oct 31, 2014

We tumble for ya, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tuco the Massachusetts K-9 Unit puppy in training.

More »
1 Comment
 
Awards Season 2014: The Movies Worth Your Time
Friday, Oct 31, 2014

What movies should you watch before 2014 comes to a close? Our critics offer their picks for the movies of the season right here.

More »
Comment