One in 88 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, representing a 23 percent increase in prevalence from the previous autism report, released in 2009, which estimated that autism affected one in 110 children.
The new CDC report revealed that 11.3 of every 1,000 8-year-olds has an autism spectrum disorder. The condition is nearly five times higher among boys than girls, the report showed. Of note, some states have higher prevalences of children with autism -- for example, in Alabama, one in 210 children have the condition, compared with one in 47 in Utah.
The researchers also found that diagnosis of autism by age 3 is increasing, with 18 percent of kids born in 2000 being diagnosed by that age, compared with 12 percent of kids born in 1994, the report said.
"This information paints a picture of the magnitude of the condition across our country and helps us understand how communities identify children with autism," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "That is why HHS and our entire administration has been working hard to improve the lives of people living with autism spectrum disorders and their families by improving research, support, and services."
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning one person with the condition may have milder symptoms, while another person may have more serious symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health. Those symptoms include problems with communication and social cues, and they may also engage in repetitive behaviors. There is no known cause of autism, though experts say it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism symptoms typically begin to show before age 3, according to the NIH.
Reuters reported that the current autism rate is double that of 2002.
However, the researchers noted that the findings don't necessarily mean more children are developing autism. Rather, the increase might reflect increased diagnosis of the condition.
The Associated Press reported that autism can be detected as young as 14 months, and screening for the condition can begin as young as 18 months. However, many kids in the U.S. aren't diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder until reaching the age of 4 1/2.
Preliminary research shows that autism is diagnosed up to one-and-a-half years later in minority children, the Associated Press reported.
The CDC study comes out around the same time as a report from advocacy organization Autism Speaks, showing that autism costs $137 billion or more to U.S. society.
"Autism is a global public health crisis. The costs are staggering and will continue to rise as prevalence continues to increase," Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, said in a statement. "We know that early diagnosis and treatment are critical, so it is imperative that the U.S. and governments around the world step up their commitment to helping people living with autism today. The investment we make now is essential to reducing the long-term costs of autism."