Autism affects one in 50 school-aged children - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Autism affects one in 50 school-aged children

Julia, who has a type of autism spectrum disorder, reads with her therapist Julia, who has a type of autism spectrum disorder, reads with her therapist

MADISON (WKOW) -- Twelve-year-old Julia is not happy she can't have her dinner yet.

"I'm upset! I'm upset!" Julia repeated a few more times. Quickly, though, she turns her attention to a puzzle on the dining room table.

Julia has pervasive developmental disorder, a type of autism, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"It took a long time to teach her ordinary things in life – three years to teach her how to exist in a classroom," Julia's adopted mother Suzanne Buchko said.

One in 50 school-aged kids in the United States has some form of autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a dramatic increase since 2008, when it was one in 88.

"Several years ago people would have been shocked by the prevalence numbers but each year the estimates have been trending upwards," said Matthew Maenner, an epidemiologist with the Waisman Center.

The survey, released Wednesday, involved contacting parents via non-cellular telephones. From February 2011 to June 2012, the CDC completed interviews with more than 95,000 parents.  

And the methodology raises some concerns.  

"The benefit of telephone surveys is that you can contact a lot of people and quickly and cheaply. The disadvantage is that unlike some epidemiological surveys, the researchers were just taking the parents' word for it," Maenner said.

The recent survey also included a range of ages: children 6 to 17 years old. The 2008 study focused only on children 8 years old, and used medical records.

Maenner says he can't say for sure what impact autism awareness, improved diagnostic techniques and broader definitions of the disorder play into the prevalence rates.

However, "while it is not possible to definitively determine the underlying reason for this trend, several previous studies …suggest that increasing recognition of children with ASD has had an important impact," author Stephen J. Blumberg wrote in the CDC report.

Parent Suzanne Buchko is not surprised by the prevalence rates.

"It astounds me when I meet somebody new and I talk about Julia and they say oh yeah my cousin, oh yeah my boss's son, oh yeah my neighbor. It just seems to be more," Buchko said.

The CDC expects to have updated figures in line with the 2008 study, based on medical and school records, next year.

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