Survey Method Change May Explain Autism Rate Jump

Survey Method Change May Explain Autism Rate Jump

By Tara Haelle

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Nov. 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) — About one in 45 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of parents.

This apparent increase is likely due to a change of questions parents were asked about their child, the study authors said.

“Probably the most important finding of this paper, which is hardly new, is that how one asks a question matters,” said Dr. Glen Elliott, chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif.

“The CDC spends considerable time appropriately emphasizing that the total number of individuals in the three categories covered — intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders and developmental disability — has not changed,” Elliott explained. He added that what did change was the distribution among those groups.

The findings were published Nov. 13 in the CDC’s National Health Statistics Reports.

More than 11,000 families were asked to complete the survey in 2014. They were asked about one child in their household between ages 3 and 17. The parents were asked if a health professional ever told them that their child had autism, Asperger’s disorder, pervasive developmental disorder or autism spectrum disorder.

Slightly more than 2 percent of parents answered yes. That works out to about one in 45 children, the researchers said.

Previous surveys have asked similar numbers of parents whether a doctor or health professional said their child had any conditions from a long list including autism spectrum disorder. Some of the other conditions on the list included Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, diabetes, arthritis, and heart conditions.

About 1.25 percent of parents said their child had autism spectrum disorder in the earlier surveys. That’s around one in 80 children, the CDC said.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, said the “irony is that the survey is, for the first time, now asking specifically about Asperger’s disorder — a diagnosis that was actually eliminated in 2013 with the revision to the DSM, the diagnostic manual that all clinicians use.”

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