The CDC just updated their autism prevalence data to 1 in 88. ONE CHILD IN 88 HAS AUTISM. And because boys are five times more likely to be affected, ONE IN 54 BOYS HAS AUTISM.
Please, take a minute to think about that. Think not only about how many children will be diagnosed, but how many families will face that diagnosis.
And now look at the details of the information released. 1 in 88 is the statistic for children born in 2000. With the rate steading climbing- 1/150 born in 1994, 1/125 born in 1996, 1/110 born in 1998, and now 1/88 born in 2000. The most recent data is for children born 12 years ago. What will the statistics be for children born this year?
Autism is a life-long diagnosis. There is no cure. Yes, we know children make better academic gains with Early Intervention services including speech and occupational therapy, but we need to be doing more than putting 1 in 88 kids through extensive therapy for their entire educational careers and beyond. We need to be working proactively to prevent autism. If our children aren't enough of a reason, perhaps this is: the cost of autism in the US is an incredible $126 billion annually.
Preventing autism would require knowing the cause(s). We need unbiased research, funded and conducted by individuals without any connection to possible causes and with no personal gain at stake. According to awareness group Autism Speaks, "More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined." And yet, autism research receives just 0.6% of the total funding from the National Institute of Health, even though it affects one in 88 children and one in 54 boys.
As a teacher who worked with children with autism, I had an intense physical reaction to these new statistics. I was nauseated. Heartbroken. I loved my job and loved my students- challenges and all- and I look forward to moving forward in my career in Special Education. But I wish life was easier for children with autism. I wish I didn't have to hold back tears at every annual parent meeting when families were reminded of their child's special needs (and I wish it was okay for me to hug parents when they cried). I wish I was worried about job security.
As April begins this weekend, so does Autism Awareness Month. When you see blue lights as a part of the Light It Up Blue autism awareness campaign- everywhere from city skyscrapers to front porch lights- think about 1 in 88. Consider donating to Autism Speaks, the largest autism science and advocacy organization in the US. And please, talk about it. If any other disease was discovered to affect 1 in 88 children and was becoming more prevalent every year, it would be front page news. As parents, teachers, and citizens, let's at least make 1 in 88 a topic of conversation.