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American Academy of Pediatrics questions autism data

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By Sheilah Downey

A study published today in Pediatrics stating that autism rates are affecting 1 in 91 children is raising alarm bells throughout the nation, with some health officials calling it a "public health crisis."

But the statistics in the study are "not as accurate" as an earlier study, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in a response to parents.

The autism study data was taken from a telephone survey of 78,000 parents who were asked if they had ever been told their child had autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Based on the parent's reports, the study estimated that the prevalence of the disorder was 110 per 10,000 children or 1 in 91.

Based on the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, the study found that an estimated 637,000 children ages 3 to 17 had a current diagnosis of the illness.

In a response to the study posted on their website, the AAP says the statistic, 1 in 91 children, is off base because of the way the study was done. The more valid statistic, 1 in 150 children, was taken from the 2002 Autism and Development Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

"ADDM data is more accurate than a survey based on parent responses because it confirms the reports of parents and caregivers with a review of the children's medical records," states the AAP letter.

Researchers on the National Survey of Children's Health suggested the numbers may be higher because other disorders, including Asperger and pervasive developmental disorders, were included in the survey.

They also said that public awareness and identification of autism is increasing, leading to higher and earlier diagnoses.

The odds for having autism were four times higher for boys than for girls,  said researchers, and white children were more likely than black children to have autism.

Approximately 38 percent of the children who were diagnosed with autism were reported to no longer have the diagnosis.

The AAP said it is possible for children who have been diagnosed with autism to "improve over time."

"Studies have found three percent to 25 percent of children improve to the point they are no longer considered to have autism," states the release. "However, they may continue to have other developmental and behavioral symptoms. The children who improve are likely to have good learning abilities and to have received behavioral therapy."

The AAP also said it is important to have children screened early for the disorder, as early as 18 and 24 months of age. An early diagnosis will lead to effective interventions so that children with autism and related disorders may reach their maximum potential.


Autism causes

Because ASD has so many variables, says the AAP, it has posed "a great challenge to researchers" looking for a cause.

One of the factors that contribute to the condition is genetics, according to the AAP.

"There appear to be multiple genes that predispose an individual for the development of specific symptoms of ASD. Identifiable genetic conditions may account for 10 percent to 20 percent of ASD cases. Siblings of children with ASD have a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with an ASD, or to have isolated symptoms of ASD."

Another factor is environmental factors. There is evidence that prenatal exposure to particular medications (such as valproate), testosterone level, alcohol exposure, and infections (including rubella and cytomegalovirus) may be associated with an increased risk of autism, says the AAP.

Children born prematurely and at very low birth weights are also at higher risk of developing autism.

And while many mothers are worried about vaccines, the AAP that has already been ruled out as a link with autism.

"The one exposure that has been studied is vaccines," says the AAP. "Expert review of the scientific literature finds no causal link between vaccines and autism."

Scientists studying autism and other disorders are examining brain function and are identifying abnormal connectivity between brain cells responsible for imitation, facial expression and sensory processing.

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Subscribe to comments feed Comments (6 posted):

Paul on 10/06/2009 16:48:40
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The only studies vindicating vaccines for their role in the autism explosion are statistical manipulations done by people associated with the vaccine program. A good example of how this is done can be found by reading, "Dissecting a Thimerosal Study". To find the article just Google those words. The AAP is nothing but a bunch of corrupt, spineless, lying cowards!
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Hank on 10/06/2009 23:19:52
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How convenient to throw out a 2007 study in favor of a 2002 based numbers study when it favors your opinion!

I agree with PAUL!
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Sara on 10/07/2009 01:49:46
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The numbers are only going to get worse. Denial isn't going to help these children.
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Patty on 10/07/2009 12:38:45
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"Approximately 38 percent of the children who were diagnosed with autism were reported to no longer have the diagnosis."

Autism is treatable as long as you work with a Doctor who is not a member of the AAP. All the successful treatments have been developed by dedicated parents. The AAP's work has been nothing more than putting up hurdles so these kids stay sick. Autistic children are nothing more than little profit centers for the AAP which is nothing but a front group for vaccine companies. Don't believe me? Check out where they get 90% of their funding by going to their own website.
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Pediatrician on 10/08/2009 18:55:37
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Immunizations have practically eliminated Haemophilus influenzae b and pneumococcal invasive infections, which were the main causes of meningitis when I was a pediatric resident in the 70s. Pediatric researchers and epidemiologists soon after identified sleeping prone as a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome, and aspirin for Reye syndrome. Between the elimination of aspirin for children, and childhood vaccination for influenza and chickenpox, Reye syndrome has disappeared from the US. When I returned to hospital medicine as a fellow in 2000, none of the pediatric residents who were training had ever seen a case any of these horrible diseases that used to kill so many children in the 1970s. Native Americans, who were among the most impacted by these and other deadly diseases, such as hepatitis B and A, now have the same vanishingly low risk as others in this country. The only data that suggest that vaccines are associated with autism are ecologic fallacies that link the increase in diagnosis of autism, a considerable portion of which is increased reporting/recognition, to increased vaccine use. I can't believe that people can be so ignorant as to say that vaccines are in the net primarily harmful, or that AAP is "nothing but a front group for vaccine companies." The regulation of vaccines is an FDA responsibility. AAP, ACIP, CDC and others are advisory... and there is considerable evidence that vaccines, on the whole, continue to greatly reduce mortality among children in the US.
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theresa on 10/09/2009 13:03:46
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How inconvenient for those who profit from the over-victimization of autism. The AAP has rightfully concluded that the recent 1-in-91 study is INDEED flawed as it's source was JUST the parents of the child and not the caregivers as well. The other respondents above are simply mad because it doesn't further their exploitive efforts.
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