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Editorial | autism

Struggling for a definition

THE RECENT news of a sharp rise in autism rates - 1 in 88 children, and 1 in 54 boys, are now said to be on the autism spectrum - has led to widespread fear about a fast-growing epidemic.

In fact, the full picture is slightly less alarming. The growth of reported autism cases is due largely to an increase in diagnoses, in part because doctors and parents have become more aware of the disorder and the benefits of early intervention. Rates have also risen among black and Hispanic children who might have been more likely to go undiagnosed in the past. And many of the new cases are high-functioning children with high IQs - kids who, a generation or two ago, might have been considered social misfits, offbeat or odd, and who might well have gone on to live productive, successful lives.

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