Autism diagnoses involving U.S. children is on the rise, according to data released this week by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Studies now show that compared to a decade ago, autism diagnoses have increased 78 percent.

“Autism is something that can emerge over the first three years of life. When a child goes in for one well visit it might not be present yet, but it might become evident at a later visit. The earlier that we intervene, the better the outcome,” said Dr. Rebecca Landa, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Autism spectrum disorder covers a wide range of disabilities that affect the development of communication, motor, and social skills. According to the report released March 29 by the CDC, one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls are now affected by the disorder in some type of way. The study included 337,093 children who were monitored at 14 different sites across the country.

The latest statistics, from 2008, now reveal that roughly 10.2 African American children out of every 1,000 are diagnosed, compared to 12 per 1,000 white children, and 7.9 per 1,000 Hispanic children. Improved access and awareness to crucial screening and information about the disorder has, in part, played a role in the jump in numbers. “This large increase in the prevalence of Autism really highlights the need for us to make sure we’re preparing the workforce and parents to address the needs of children with autism, using the latest and greatest strategies that we have available,” said Landa.

There are many different signs and symptoms within the autistic spectrum, which varies from mild to severe. Statistics released by the CDC conclude that one out of every 88 children born in the United States now has some type of disorder within that spectrum. Indicators of autism in children include poor eye contact, little to no connection with other people and no response to name or show of interest in things meant to catch the attention of children. Poor motor skills can also be a sign of autism.

Though an autism diagnosis may change the way in which a family operates, parents of autistic children are encouraged to realize that their children are able to achieve greatness even with specific challenges.

“The key to it is figuring out what works for your child and what doesn’t work, what they are capable of, and expanding on the things that they are able to do,” said Nicole M. Harris, owner and director of HoneyGrynEyz Designs (HGE) a clothing company that puts together annual fashion shows as fund raisers for autism.

Harris is the mother of a child diagnosed at the age of two with autism spectrum disorder.

“A lot of people feel like that diagnosis is the end. I think they need to realize that diagnoses aren’t the end all be all- it’s the beginning. Don’t look at it as ‘my child can’t do this- my child can’t do that’ just see it as a way to view life and view your child’s life differently,” said Harris.

Parents are encouraged to get their children screened more than once for the disorder, especially if predisposing factors are found. Preterm births, low birth weight, and a family history of autism both put a child at risk for developing autism later.

Women are encouraged to undergo genetic testing to be fully aware of the personal risks involved in carrying and giving birth to a baby at full term.

Though there currently is no cure of autism, pregnant women should talk with their doctor and find out what medications could possibly harm a baby and avoid fish that has a high mercury count, as mercury exposure is believed to play a part in the development of autism symptoms. If caught early enough, children can receive the proper course of treatment and manage the disorder, possibly even growing out of it over time.

To support or learn more about the annual HGE Designs fashion show fund raiser for autism, please visit

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Black Children Lag in Autism Diagnosis


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer