Autism on the Rise?
In 1998, when Shema Kolainu opened its doors as the first Jewish school for children with autism, the prevalence rate for autism was 1 in 500. The latest studies published this year by the CDC, Center of Disease Control, cite the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder as 1 in 59, up from 1 in 68 just a year ago. By all calculations, this seems like an epidemic of massive proportions.
Researchers also consider other theories to explain the increase in autism prevalence.One particularly cogent explanation is that we’re waiting longer to have children. According to medical studies, older parents are more likely to have a child with autism.Moreover, due to advances in medicine, more premature babies survive. Some studies suggest these babies are at higher risk of developing autism.
Other plausible explanations include environmental toxins, nutritional changes, interacting factors in the womb, or unknown genetic causes. Experts agree: we need more research
before we can reach a definitive conclusion.
But in the interim, autism spectrum disorder, although now better understood, still has its
mysteries. This includes why at least four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed.
Many find it disturbing that the increase in prevalence shows no drop in age when autism is identified. Most children are still being diagnosed after the age of four eventhough it can be identified as early as age two. An early diagnosis is critical since early intervention provides the greatest prospect to support healthy growth, offers better outcomes and comes with numerous advantages.
Joshua Weinstein has been an educator and administrator for over four decades. He holds a Ph.D., two Masters Degrees in Educational Administration and Supervision and a MBA in Executive Administration. He has been the CEO in healthcare, social services, and business corporations. He’s the president and founder of Shema Kolainu - Hear Our Voices and iCare4Autism - International Center for Autism Research & Education- a global leader in autism research & education. He can be reached via email at
The new estimate represents a 15% increase from two years prior and a 150% increase since 2000. Autism spectrum disorder, (ASD), a developmental disability, is characterized by an individual’s social skills, verbal and written communication, and repetitive behaviors. The signs and symptoms of autism become most evident between the ages of two and three, but some
cases have seen patients diagnosed as early as eighteen months old.
Is autism a growing epidemic or are the dramatic jumps in numbers due to other factors,
better reporting, and more inclusive criteria?
Before you get alarmed about a massive epidemic, consider the following. Many scientists and social scientists believe the climbing numbers in autism diagnosis are attributable to a few factors: the definition of autism has broadened; there is improved screening among black and Hispanic children and there is more funding for the process of screening, evaluation and diagnosis of autism. This naturally leads to an increase.
Social policies that affect access to services have also changed. This means increased funding for treating autism which may motivate parents of children with “special needs” to find ways to get an autism diagnosis so they can get funding for treatment. In other words, autism is not necessarily dramatically increasing in prevalence. Rather, we have better and more inclusive criteria for defining it and more funding for treatment so those with borderline or allied conditions look for loopholes.
This theory is supported by the following facts. In 1994, autism was redefined. Additionally,
the way diagnoses were reported changed. But a precise methodology for defining and
estimating prevalence didn’t come until 1996. Funding for studies of autism prevalence
didn’t happen until 2000. With better definition, more funding and more studies, more
children are being diagnosed. That makes sense.
Dr. Joshua Weinstein, MBA, Ph.D