While current reported rates of autism among children are alarming enough, a new study out of South Korea shows the real rate may be much higher, and that many around the world are likely living with autism but haven't been diagnosed with the disease yet.
How far off are current estimates? Well, whereas the currrent rate in the United States is thought to be 1 in 110 (or 1 percent), these researchers found as many as 1 in 38 children (2.64 percent) were affected by it. And it's not just that South Korea has an unusually high rate of autism, they believe if similar studies were conducted in other countries, the rates would increase there as well. That's a huge jump!
"We expect the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the United States and in other countries, if we used the same method, will be in the range of 2 to 3 percent," said Dr. Young Shin Kim, lead author of the study.
The study, published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, differs from previous efforts to measure how many children are affected by autism. Other rates have been based on those diagnosed with autism or at high-risk for developing it, while this study actually went into schools and screened 55,000 school-age children both in the mainstream and special education classes.
Researchers say they expected rates to be higher than previously estimated, but were shocked by how much higher they were. They said parents shouldn't be alarmed, however, and that the increase is likely due more to the disease being under diagnosed than to cases of it increasing. Still, those are some frightening numbers.
Of course, more research is needed. A spokesperson from the CDC told CNN "We've always said that what we report is an underestimate." She also said that while a study similar to the one conducted in South Korea hasn't been done in the United States yet, it's being considered.
While many experts offer reasons why the same results wouldn't be found in the United States -- including differences in school systems and the fact that Asperger's Syndrome was included in the Korean report, whereas it's counted separately in the United States -- the study does make it even more imperative that we find a cure. Regardless of the exact numbers, we must find out what's happening to our babies, and why so many of them must suffer from the challenges of this disease.
What do you think of this new study on autism rates?
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