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UK Study Finds 12-Fold Increase in Autism

The cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have risen dramatically over the past 30 years, so much so that there may be 50 percent more cases than previously suspected.

Up to 250,000 children have autism or a related condition on the autistic spectrum, but have not been diagnosed, researchers say. They are in addition to the 500,000 children who are known to be affected.

The study, conducted by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, found that the increase was due to better detection and intervention.

This is disputed by a U.S. study at UC Davis, which said that California’s 7- to 8-fold increase was due only in small part by better detection, and stressed that environmental factors must be studied as a possible cause.

So now the opposite sides of the pond, and coasts for that matter, are in dispute.

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The UK study based its findings on 20,000 children in Cambridgeshire. First researchers looked at those known to have special needs in the school system. But then through further surveying parents, they found more cases, previously undiagnosed.

This represented a jump from 1 percent of the population to up to 1.5 percent of the childhood population.

Now, there may be as many as 1 in 64 British kids with the condition.

Which brings us to the next question: these are children we’re talking about. Children on all ends of the autism spectrum. Those who are severe. Those who are smack-dab in the middle of the spectrum. Those who have the high-functioning, familiar Asperger’s syndrome.

These children will grow up. Perhaps researchers should turn their heads with us and help answer the question: What next?

Image: baston on Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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