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Autism among American children and teens surged 50% in three years from 2017, with one in 30 kids diagnosed with the disorder by 2020, study finds

  • Around one in every 30 children and adolescents in America have autism, a new study finds
  • Autism rates in America have jumped 50% from 2017 to 2020, after a heavy drop from 2016 to 2017
  • The U.S. and Europe often have higher autism rates than other nations because of better surveillance for the condition
  • Boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, and children that are poor or black are at a higher risk as well 

The number of children in the United States being diagnosed with autism has rocketed in recent years, a new study finds.

Researchers Guangdong Pharmaceutical University, in China, found that 3.49 percent of U.S. children and adolescents – or around one-in-every-30 – had autism in 2020.

This is a sharp 52 percent rise from the 2.29 percent of youths in America that had the condition in 2017.

While the research team did not give an exact reason for the jump, many experts have speculated the increase is related to parents better understanding early signs their child has autism and more surveillance for the condition.

Just under 3.5% of children and adolescents in the United States have autism, a figure that has climbed around 50% since 2017. Experts say this is likely because of increased surveillance of the condition

Just under 3.5% of children and adolescents in the United States have autism, a figure that has climbed around 50% since 2017. Experts say this is likely because of increased surveillance of the condition 

Researchers, who published their findings Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics, gathered data from the annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

The survey, which is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducts household interviews and targeted screenings to find more about the health of the average household.

In 2014, the NHIS found that 2.24 percent of children and adolescents in America had autism. 

THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have trouble with social, emotional and communication skills that usually develop before the age of three and last throughout a person’s life. 

Specific signs of autism include: 

  • Reactions to smell, taste, look, feel or sound are unusual
  • Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
  • Unable to repeat or echo what is said to them
  • Difficulty expressing desires using words or motions
  • Unable to discuss their own feelings or other people’s
  • Difficulty with acts of affection like hugging
  • Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
  • Difficulty relating to other people
  • Unable to point at objects or look at objects when others point to them

The figure gradually grew, reaching 2.76 percent in 2016. It took a sharp drop in 2017 from to 2.44 percent. 

It then steadily grew over the next three years, until the most recent NHIS data from 2020 which finds that 3.49 percent of America’s youth is on the spectrum.

Researchers note that the U.S. and Europe generally have higher autism rates than the rest of the world, likely because of better screening and diagnosis.

Nearly five percent of young boys had autism, compared to just under two percent of girls.

Children that are black, come from a family in poverty, or have a more educated family are most likely to be diagnosed.

The reasons for these discrepancies have not been determined, but experts have long known that boys in particular are more likely to receive an autism diagnosis.

While increasing rates of autism may be alarming, some experts see them as more of a positive – believing that the number of people experiencing the condition has not increased but instead a sign a better surveillance.

In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that all children between 18 months and two years old be screened for autism.

As the amount of screening and diagnostic testing increased, so did the amount of cases detected.

The average parent is now more aware of common early signs of autism than they were in previous years, and could recognize things like failure to keep eye contact, poor communication skills and inability to operate out of structure as signs.

Social stigma surrounding autism has lessoned as well, and many parents are much more willing to get their child screened without fear of negative social repercussions.

Some experts do warn that there are some negative effects being suffered by children in the womb that puts them at higher risk, though.

Experts warn that older parents, exposure to pollution while in the womb and even a mother that is obese during pregnancy could be tied to increased likelihood of developing autism.

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