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Autism rates rise in children by 30 percent, data show

The percentage of American kids with autism jumped 30 percent in two years, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday which found that 1 in 68 children had autism spectrum disorder in 2010, up from 1 in 88 children in 2008.

That’s based on a survey of medical records in 8-year-olds from 11 communities throughout the U.S. When the CDC started its surveillance of these communities back in 2000, the incidence of autism was 1 in 150 children.

But CDC officials couldn’t explain specific reasons for the rise. “It may be that we’re getting better at identifying autism,” said Coleen Boyle, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities during a press briefing. “We do feel like some of this has to do with how children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their communities.”


Some communities may detect the condition far more carefully than others since autism incidence swung widely among them: 1 in 175 children in Alabama had autism in 2010 compared to 1 in 45 children in New Jersey.

Certain trends have remained steadfast during the decade that the CDC has been collecting its data. Autism remains five times more common in boys -- affecting 1 in 42 compared to 1 in 189 girls -- and white children are more likely to be diagnosed than black or Hispanic children, though the prevalence in those minorities has risen at a faster rate than for whites.

About half of children with autism in 2010 were at average or above-average intelligence compared to a third in 2002.

“We now recognize that autism is a spectrum,” said Marshalyn Yergin-Allsopp, chief of CDC’s developmental disabilities branch. “Our understanding has evolved to the point that we understand that there are children with higher IQ’s who may not have been receiving services in the past.”


Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.