The CDC reports that autism (autism spectrum disorder) rates are still increasing in the US, from 1 in 150 twenty years ago to 1 in 36 children in 2020. That's huge!
It's not just better screening and diagnosis. Rates are increasing so rapidly that researchers agree that there are environmental factors going on. But what are they?
The researchers of the report point out known factors (e.g., age of parents, multiple gestation birth, prematurity, genetics), but what is not discussed are all the chemical toxins in our environment that people are exposed to both prenatally and after birth (postnatally). Studies find that pregnant women are exposed to more harmful industrial chemicals nowadays than ever before.
For example, lead, heavy metals, and pesticides. People use pesticides in the home, on home exteriors, in their gardens and lawns, on pets, on crops, they're in foods we eat, in water we drink, even in rainfall (!). Millions of pounds are used each year in the US. Many of them have neurological effects.
This means that babies and young children are also exposed to more pesticides than ever before. The American Academy of Pediatrics has been warning about the dangers of pesticide exposure in children for years.
Excerpts from Futurity (site for research news from universities): United States autism rates hit new high
More children have been diagnosed with autism than at any time since monitoring began more than two decades ago, according to new federal studies. About 4% of 8-year-old boys and 1% of 8-year-old girls, in the United States have autism, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
These estimates are the highest since the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network was created in 2000.
Walter Zahorodny, director of the New Jersey Autism Study at the Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School and Josephine Shenouda, a Rutgers epidemiologist coauthored two biennial studies from the ADDM Network, which analyzed data from 2020.
The first study, the CDC’s 2020 autism prevalence report, found that California set new records, diagnosing 45% more boys with autism than any other state in the network. Nearly 7% of all 8-year-old boys in the San Diego region are estimated to have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the report.
In New Jersey, the combined rate of 8-year-old boys and girls with ASD was 28.7 per 1,000 children (2.9%), the third-highest behind Minnesota (3%) and California (4.5%).
Maryland recorded the lowest rate (2.3%) across the 11 states in the network (which includes Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin).
More difficult to ascertain is why ASD prevalence continues to climb. While there are known risk factors for autism, including age of parents, multiple-gestation birth, prematurity, C-section delivery, and care in the intensive care unit after delivery, these perinatal factors have remained relatively stable even as the rate of ASD has continued to surge.
A common misconception is that better awareness and more availability of services is largely responsible for the rise, but Zahorodny says this was “impossible” because the scope and breadth of increase has been extensive across all subtypes of ASD, from mild to severe and across all demographic groups.
“This is not just a phenomenon of becoming more sensitive to subtly impaired kids,” he says. “Once considered a rare disorder, these figures suggest that autism may be one of the most common disabilities,” Zahorodny says. “The trouble is we don’t understand what the primary drivers of the increase are.”