Talk about timing.
On March 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new analysis of the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and concluded that the latest statistics, from 2010, reveal the disorder now occurs in one out of every 68 American children.
That’s a 33 percent increase over the prevalence estimated in a previous study of 2008 statistics that concluded 1 in 88 children have the disorder.
The new data were released on the eve of World Autism Awareness Day – April 2 – and reverberated through the autism community like an earthquake.
Raw figures, of course, don’t tell the whole story, and some of the nuances are even more disturbing to parts of the demographic pool. For boys, it turns out, the prevalence is 1 in 42, while girls have “only” a 1 in 189 chance of exhibiting the disorder. Non-Hispanic white children had a significantly higher incidence than did Hispanic or African-American children.
The data comes from 11 monitoring sites around the country where the CDC is gathering ASD statistics from multiple data sources.
Causes for the ASD explosion are still being researched and argued, and while there is little question that better and more comprehensive diagnosis and monitoring explains part of the phenomenon, many experts doubt that provides an adequate answer.
Global autism rates have increased between 20 and 30 times (that’s 2,000 to 3,000 percent) since early epidemiological studies began in the late 1960s. Today, in the U.S., 3 million people are diagnosed with autism and, according to Autism Speaks, every year 50,000 adults with ASD are aging out of school with only minimal resources available to address their needs.
Some autism authorities believe that even the 1-in-68 figure underestimates the size of the problem and a national survey of parents put the prevalence at 1 in 50 children.
Meanwhile, according to Autism Speaks – a prominent national advocacy group – only one-half of 1 percent of the NIH annual budget is focused on autism.
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, but the causes remain unclear, although genetic vulnerability and environmental factors are suspected. A report published by the Harvard School of Public Health recently stated, “To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy ... Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity.”
All of which resonates close to home in the Sonoma Valley, where a significant population of ASD patients are housed and cared for at the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), and where Sweetwater Spectrum has established an international model for enlightened living environments designed specifically for autistic adults.
For those who care to look, these resources could represent the tip of a new initiative to address both the care and the liberation of people living with ASD.
Deliberations over the uncertain future of SDC and its resident population should, we believe, include discussions of the facility’s potential utility to serve the growing flood of ASD citizens needing behavioral, medical, residential and social support to live productive lives.