2012-04-05 / Local & State

Autism Cases On Rise

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Autism cases in Pennsylvania are above the national average, according to a new federal report issued last Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 1 in 75 Pennsylvania children had autism or related disorders in 2008. The national average was 1 in 88.

The Pennsylvania survey found that 1 in 45 boys and 1 in 233 girls have the disorders. It looked at 18,440 children in Philadelphia County.

Autism is diagnosed by making judgments about a child’s behavior; there are no blood or biologic tests. For decades, the diagnosis was given only to kids with severe language and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors. The definition of autism has gradually expanded, and “autism” is now shorthand for a group of milder, related conditions, including Asperger’s syndrome.

Experts are also seeing more and more adults who need support services.

“This year we have seen a very large increase,” said Felicia Hurewitz, head of the Autism Support Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She said the program is for students who are already enrolled, and is currently free of cost. But that may not be sustainable long-term.

Health officials attribute the national increase largely to better recognition of cases, through wide screening and better diagnosis. But the search for the cause of autism is really only beginning, and officials acknowledge that other factors may be helping to drive up the numbers.

“We’re not quite sure the reasons for the increase,” said Coleen Boyle of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC study released last Thursday looked specifically at 8-year-old children because most autism is diagnosed by that age. CDC is also studying the cause of autism.

Genetics is believed to play a role. Some parents and others have believed childhood vaccines trigger autism, even though many studies have not found a connection.

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