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Dr. Bob Sears

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Wake up Medical Establishment: There's an Autism Epidemic!

Posted: 12/21/09 11:25 AM ET

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study last week that reveals a dramatic increase in the incidence of autism over just a four-year period.

In this brand new study of children born in 1998, 1 in 110 were found to be on the autism spectrum. This finding correlates with a recent study in Pediatrics that found the autism rate for children born in the 90s and early 2000s is 1 in 91. Obvious to anyone confronted by these studies, autism is a huge problem, and it's getting worse.

Previous studies conducted by the CDC have reported that 1 in 150 children born in 1994 were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

But let me tell you what I continue to hear from my colleagues in the pediatric community: "There's been no increase in autism - we're just better at recognizing it." I just attended a pediatric lecture, and the speaker, a local pediatrician, stated this very clearly.

I just don't get it. How long will pediatricians continue to deny that autism is truly on the rise? I guess as long as autism isn't a problem, we don't have to work very hard to find what's causing it?

The CDC seems to be taking the rise in autism seriously, but is the institution ready to actually admit autism is truly increasing? Here are two quotes from the new study:

Although improved ascertainment accounts for some of the prevalence increases documented in the ADDM sites, a true increase in the risk for children to develop ASD symptoms cannot be ruled out.

Basically, this suggests that some of the observed increase is the result of better diagnosis, and perhaps it also due to an actual increase in cases. What I would like to hear from the CDC, instead of "a rise cannot be ruled out" is "there is a definite and obvious rise in the number of children developing autism."

The second quote:

[These results] underscore the need to regard ASDs as an urgent public health concern... Research is needed to ascertain the factors that put certain persons at risk, and concerted efforts are essential to provide support for persons with ASDs, their families, and communities to improve long-term outcome.

Instead of "urgent public health concern," I would have liked to see the word "epidemic," or something far more serious than a "concern."

OK, enough ragging on the CDC. I do appreciate the institution's undertaking of this study (thanks go to the authors of the Pediatrics study as well). And the recognition of the need for more research is very welcome. It is important to appreciate everything they do for our nation's health. I'm just a little disappointed that the CDC's statements fall short of actually saying, "there is a real and true increase in autism; there's a real epidemic."

And what about the increase between 1994 and 1998? A 57% average increase was reported over the four-year period, according to this study. That's very concerning. Such a dramatic increase is very suggestive of environmental triggers as a primary cause of autism, not simply genetics (it's likely a combination of both). Genetics don't deteriorate in a population that quickly. Yet I continue to see statements by medical organizations that state autism is primarily a genetic problem.

Here's my bottom line on this study: Autism is increasing. The rate is somewhere between 1 in 91 and 1 in 110 children, with the majority being boys. That is simply staggering. To think that in a large public school (some are as big as 3000 students where I live), about 30 of the children there could have autism. I see it in my practice. Ask any teacher - it's all over the schools and in every neighborhood. Growing up as a child in the 70s and 80s, I honestly did not know a single child in any of the schools I attended who had autism. The increase is real, and it's not going away. We need research and treatments. We need to make sure families have access to those treatments. And these families and their children need financial and emotional support. Denying the epidemic is like a slap in the face of every parent and child affected. Wake up America! It's time to get to the bottom of this!

Click here to read the recently released CDC study.