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CHICAGO — Two new government studies indicate about 1 in 100 children have autism disorders – higher than a previous U.S. estimate of 1 in 150.
Greater awareness, broader definitions and spotting autism in younger children may explain some of the increase, federal health officials said.
“The concern here is that buried in these numbers is a true increase,” said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “We’re going to have to think very hard about what we’re going to do for the 1 in 100.”
Figuring out how many children have autism is extremely difficult because diagnosis is based on a child’s behavior, said Dr. Susan E. Levy of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics subcommittee on autism.
“With diabetes you can get a blood test,” said Levy. “As of yet, there’s no consistent biologic marker we can use to make the diagnosis of autism.”
The new estimate would mean about 673,000 American children have autism. Previous estimates put the number at about 560,000.
One of the studies stems from the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health. The results were released Monday, and published in October’s Pediatrics.
In that study, based on telephone surveys, parents reported about 1 in 91 children, ages 3 to 17, had autism, including milder forms such as Asperger’s syndrome.
The other government estimate has not been formally released yet. But because of the new published findings, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to announce Friday during an embargoed press briefing that their preliminary findings also show about 1 in 100 children have the disorders.
The CDC uses an in-depth method for its estimate, said CDC researcher Catherine Rice. An agency network reviews the education and health records of 8-year-old children in selected cities and determines whether the children meet the diagnosis. Autism experts generally consider this method more rigorous than a telephone survey.
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By Dr. Bob Sears, author of The Vaccine Book
The debate over vaccine safety rages on, with no clear end in sight. On the one side is a medical establishment made up of hundreds of thousands of doctors, researchers, infectious disease specialists, vaccine manufacturers, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and our government, who all insist that vaccines are safe and everyone should comply with the standard recommended vaccine schedule. On the other side is a growing number of parents, and a small but growing number of physicians, who are questioning vaccine safety. Caught in the middle are the 5 million couples who have a baby every year and are faced with the decision of whether or not to vaccinate.
I’ve been studying vaccines for over 16 years, ever since my first child was born. I was in medical school at Georgetown at the time, and since I wasn’t learning much about vaccines there (besides “vaccines good, diseases bad”), I decided to educate myself on all the pros and cons of vaccines. I wanted to know what my son was being given and what the benefits and risks were. After studying everything I could get my hands on, I came to the conclusion that vaccines are effective and generally safe for most children, but that there is a small risk of a serious reaction. This may not seem like any great revelation, as most people agree that vaccines do work (although not 100%, and in some cases as low as 85%), and that most children seem to handle them just fine without harmful effects.
The reason I viewed my conclusion as significant was that back in the 1990s, the party line within the medical community was that vaccines do not cause severe reactions. Reports of seizures, encephalitis, autoimmune reactions, bleeding disorders, and neurological injuries were just coincidence. Vaccines can’t cause that. Now we know differently, and the medical establishment has acknowledged that such reactions can be attributed to vaccines (just read any vaccine product insert). So the party line has changed to the opinion that such severe reactions are so rare that the general population doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to worry about them. But every parent is still going to worry that their one individual baby is going to be one of those statistics. And that’s an understandable concern.