Autism on the Increase


An alarming trend we're seeing is the rise of autism in America. It grew by thirty percent between 2008 and 2010, which means nearly one in every seventy 8-year olds are now diagnosed. We're also better at diagnosing autism which helps push up numbers but some experts say it remains underestimated.

Autism is not a single disease but really a spectrum of disorders known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD. We know it's clearly related to infant brain development and affects five times more boys than girls, but most causes of ASD are unknown. One possibility is the trend of older parents.

A new study suggests ASD begins long before birth. Researchers observed changes in the cerebral cortex, the outer most layer of the brain, in almost ninety percent of children with ASD. These changes were in regions responsible for social and emotional communication and language. The brain differences could be seen in patches of the cortex suggesting it occurs during prenatal development.

Even though there's no way yet to diagnose this before birth, scientists could use the knowledge to develop therapies in the future. Another study suggests that eye tracking technology can detect autism in two to six month old babies. This is the age when kids with ASD show a steady decline in eye contact. It seems simple, but the change isn't conspicuous to parents and actually requires sophisticated technology to diagnose.

If it works, children could begin therapy as early as possible which substantially improves their communication and social skills. As autism rates increase, parents will need better diagnosis and treatment.

More Information

Autism Fact Sheet
The National Institue of Neurological Disorders and Stroke offers this site with a lot of up-to-date information on autism, as well as links to additional information.

Mental Illness Risk Higher for Children of Older Fathers, Study Finds
New York Times — "Children born to middle-aged men are more likely than their older siblings to develop any of a range of mental difficulties, including bipolar disorder, autism and schizophrenia, according to the most comprehensive study to date of paternal age and offspring mental health."

Autism Risk Rises With Mother's Age
WebMD — "The older a mother is when she gives birth, the higher her child's risk of autism, new data show."