Sunday, November 15, 2015

One in 45

The latest U.S. autism statistics were announced two days ago, and the news is not good. According to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Center for Health Statistics, the prevalence of children between the ages of 3-17 who have autism is now 1 in 45. More alarming is the rate of increase. Between 2011 and 2013, the rate was one in 80, or 1.25 percent of children. With the current statistics showing that 2.24 percent of children have autism, this shows an 80 percent increase in just a few short years.

Of course, the researchers want to make all kinds of excuses about why the rate of autism is dramatically rising instead of simply acknowledging what parents and teachers already know—we have a lot more kids with autism than we did in the past. One of the reasons given for the increase was a change in the questionnaire format. Specifically, the lead researcher notes that autism is now listed first on the questionnaire ahead of developmental disabilities, and he believes that more parents chose autism because it was listed first. Certainly, a real increase in autism rates couldn’t possibly be the reason; furthermore, one could not expect autism parents to fill out forms correctly [sarcasm intended].

Moreover the usual suspects have been cited as possible reasons for the increase in autism found in this research study: over diagnosis of autism and the ever-vague and rarely specifically named possible environmental factors. Naturally, all parents want their children to have autism, especially if it’s going to be such a popular diagnosis. All the cool kids will have an autism label, and apparently more and more will be getting one. Some mothers aspire to be soccer moms and take their kids to games and practices; others prefer to take their kids to speech therapy and ABA therapy and occupational therapy, just a few of the perks of being an autism mom [again, sarcasm intended].

In an article entitled “Autism cases in U.S. jump to 1 in 45: Who gets the diagnosis, in 8 simple charts,” The Washington Post shares an excellent overview of who these children identified with autism are. [To read this article by Ariana Eunjung Cha, please click here.]

1. Approximately half of children (55.4%) are between the ages of 3 and 10; children between the ages of 11 and 17 make up 44.6% of those diagnosed with autism.

2. Traditionally, the number of boys with autism has always been greater than the number of girls with autism. This trend continues, as the current research shows that three fourths of the children with autism are boys versus one fourth of the children are girls. This shows an increase in the number of girls being diagnosed with autism, however. In the 2011-2013 study, only 18.3 percent were girls. With the help of my husband, who is much more mathematically inclined than I am, these new statistics mean that approximately one in 27 boys has autism. That means that statistically, every typical classroom will have one boy with autism. Having taught for more than thirty years, I can confirm that the number of students with autism has risen dramatically during my career in teaching. I can also confirm that most school districts are in no way ready to handle these students with very special needs.

According to the Indiana Resource Center for Autism based at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, my home state, the number of students identified with autism spectrum disorders is clearly on the rise. In a recent article entitled “Increasing Incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders Continues in Indiana" [To read this article, please click here.], the increase in actual numbers of students in Indiana public schools who have autism spectrum disorders is staggering.  According to the Indiana Department of Education, the number of students with autism enrolled in Indiana public schools is 14,179 out of 1,009,943 total students, or 1 in 77 students. Of course, some parents of children with autism choose to enroll their children in private schools or to home school them, as we did Alex, because public schools often cannot meet the unique needs students with autism have.

What is more mind-boggling is the graph this article includes, showing the increase of students who have autism in the Indiana public schools. While the number of students with autism this current school year (2014-2015) is a little over 14,000, five years ago, that number was a little under 11,000. Ten years ago, the number of students with autism in the Indiana public schools was less than half of the current rate at a little over 6,000 students. To truly boggle the mind, in the 1998-1999 school year, when Alex would have been a first grader, the number of children with autism in Indiana public schools was about 2,000. In sixteen years, the number of students who have autism in Indiana public schools has increased more than seven times.

As if those figures weren’t unsettling enough, this article also points out the monetary factors involved with autism. Quoting the CDC research, the article notes that the estimated cost of caring for a child with autism is $17,000 to over $21,000 per year more than raising a child who does not have autism. These extra expenses include costly therapies, health care, and education. If the autism rates continue to grow, how will schools afford to provide education to all these children with autism?

3. Autism affects all races, but predominantly the majority (59.9%) of children with autism are white. Hispanic children make up 16.1% of the total, Black children account for 13.5%, and other ethnicities total 10.6% of the children diagnosed with autism. These statistics mirror the overall population statistics, with approximately 17% of the U.S. population identified as Hispanic and 13.2% of the U.S. population being Black. Consequently, autism seems to affect all ethnicities fairly equally.

4. Contrary to the reports that autism breaks up marriages, most children with autism (68%) live with both parents.

5. Children with autism come from all levels of income fairly equally. In dividing the levels of family income into four groups, the highest level of income was 21.5%, the next level was 25.1%, and the lowest level was 21.4%––all statistically similar. The third group, just ahead of the lowest level of income was the highest at 32.1%. One wonders if this level is made up of parents who are struggling to pay for the $17,000-$21,000 of extra costs for therapies needed for their children with autism.

6. In comparing parents’ levels of education, approximately two thirds of the parents of children with autism have more than a high school education, and a little less than one third of the parents reported having a high school education or GED or less.  The researchers assume the reason for higher rates of children with autism in better-educated parents may be that they are more observant and more likely to get help for their children.

7. Slightly more than half (54.7%) of children with autism live in a large metropolitan area. Perhaps their parents have migrated to these areas because they can find better services often associated with large children’s hospitals found in major cities.

8. Nonetheless, children with autism can be found throughout the U.S. According to this study, 21% live in the Northeast, 21.5% live in the West, 26.2% live in the Midwest, and 31.2% live in the South. Once again, autism shows that it doesn’t discriminate; fairly equal numbers can be found throughout the country. Moreover, the impact of increasing numbers of children with autism should be a growing concern in every part of our nation.

While this newest research not only indicates an increase in numbers of children and their families impacted by autism, its statistics also show that autism can be found everywhere in the U.S. in every age of children, gender, ethnicity, family structure, income level, level of parental education, and geographical type and region. What this research does not indicate is the definite reason for this epidemic, nor does there seem to be much effort made to find a cause for autism.

To make feeble excuses about how questions are answered or possible better diagnostic methods does not address the costs—emotional and financial—of providing support for all of these children with autism in family, educational, and medical settings. To ignore this problem that is clearly growing rapidly is at best foolish and more likely disastrous. As an autism mom, I will not be silent. We must figure out what causes autism now for our children’s sakes as well as for our society that cannot provide for the needs of those currently diagnosed with autism, let alone those who will be diagnosed in the future. With God’s help, I pray that we find the answers we desperately seek.

“Get ready; be prepared! Keep all the armies around you mobilized, and take command of them. You and all your allies—a vast and awesome army––will roll down on them like a storm and cover the land like a cloud.” Ezekiel 7, 9

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