BALTIMORE, MD — Autism rates continue to climb nationwide, and Maryland is second in the country in the number of children with autism, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control.The study used research collected by Rutgers University researchers and found that autism rates have gone up 10 percent in Maryland since 2004, and looks like they will continue to climb.
Data released by the CDC finds that Autism Spectrum Disorders affect an average of 1 in 59 children in the U.S. (1 in 38 boys, 1 in 152 girls). The findings are based on 11 sites, including Maryland (which has an autism prevalence of 1 in 50; 1 in 31 for boys, and 1 in 139 for girls). The study focused on 8-year-olds.
One in 34 New Jersey children (three percent of all 8-year-olds) have autism, the study found, the highest in the country. Maryland has the second highest rate of autism, at one in 55, the CDC reports.
“Pathfinders for Autism is deeply concerned by the implications the increasing numbers of children diagnosed with ASD will have on our over-burdened public school and adult service systems,” said Maryland’s largest group advocating for children with autism. “Already, Maryland’s public school system is unable to meet the needs of over 11,000 children with ASD. Children with autism grow into adults with autism, many in need of supports. Our adult service system has thousands of adults with developmental disabilities on waiting lists for critical supports. Furthermore, health insurance plans continue to deny or simply not cover effective treatments and interventions leaving gaps in individuals’ medical care and potentially diminishing their quality of life and long-term potential.
“While we commend the State of Maryland for their recent budget approval to open an additional 100 Autism Waiver slots, and 800 slots for those on the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) Waiting List, thousands are still left in need of services,” the group said. “Pathfinders for Autism strongly urges our state leaders to recognize that the rate of autism continues to rise year after year. Maryland needs to acknowledge the increasing demand on services and families and develop a plan to expand supports and services and adequate funding to address the need.”
Researchers caution that high rates don’t necessarily mean more children with autism live in Maryland. Instead, the data could mean that children with autism are more likely to be diagnosed if they live here, but there’s not enough information to know for sure.
“Other states could be underestimating the rate of autism,” said Dr. Walter Zahorodny, an Associate Professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the lead investigator on the study.
The study also found that autism rates are the same among different ethnic groups, the first time there was no racial disparity in diagnosis rates. Researchers believe public awareness about autism is behind that change.
Nationwide, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls, compared to Maryland, in which boys are 4.5 times more likely diagnosed than girls.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that can cause “significant social, communication and behavioral challenges,” the CDC says. Those with autism might “communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged.”
There is no medical test for autism; instead, it is diagnosed based on behavioral traits. Most people with autism are diagnosed as children, but some may be diagnosed as adults.
These behaviors may be a sign of an Autism Spectrum Disorder:
- Infrequent or no babbling
- Lack of eye contact or smile
- No interest in looking at faces
- Unusual, high-pitched squeals
- ANY signs of regression
- Infrequent response to social interactions
- Decreased eye contact
- Limited facial expressions
- Inconsistent response to name (in absence of hearing loss)
- No words by 16 months or no 2-word phrases by 24 months
- Uses other person’s hand as a tool
- Limited use of gestures (especially pointing)
- Doesn’t easily learn simple new interactive routines
- Echoing what others say without regular spontaneous speech
- Overly attached to unusual objects
- Repetitive or odd play or other behavior
- Odd sensory interests (fans, lights, spinning)
- Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
Find more information about families living with autism at www.pathfindersforautism.org.
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