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Autism sample in Arapahoe County higher than nation’s

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A Colorado test county has seen a 60 percent spike in diagnosed autism over two years, far higher than an already-worrisome surge in national rates for the disorder, the CDC and state health officials said Thursday.

The Colorado segment of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national monitoring project found 1 in 85 Arapahoe County 8-year-olds had some level of autism in 2008, or 11.8 cases per 1,000 kids. That was a 60 percent jump from the last comparable study in 2006.

The boost in Arapahoe County numbers was higher than the 23 percent national increase in childhood autism cases. The CDC’s national composite shows 1 out of 88 children with an “autism spectrum disorder,” across monitoring areas in 14 states.

Nationally, the rate has increased 68.7 percent over eight years of study.

Both the local and national increases renew the search for answers on whether more kids are developing autism or whether doctors, families and education experts are recognizing more existing cases.

Health officials say they don’t yet know, and many parents admit their hunches are unproved.

“It’s one of the toughest questions we get,” said Bridget Cessar, interim director of the Autism Society of Colorado. “What we know is an inch. What we need to know is 20,000 miles.”

Grateful for spotlight

Shannon Zimmerman of Westminster, the mother of a severely autistic 8-year-old boy named Logan, is grateful for the new spotlight shone by the study. Like many parents of autistic children, she worries about who will be willing to care for a burgeoning generation of troubled children decades from now.

“It needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency, not complacency,” Zimmerman said. Logan, who also is deaf, was diagnosed with autism at 3½.

“We don’t know the extent to which the data reflect better autism identification and reporting or a true increase in case numbers, but these data do show autism spectrum disorders continue to be a tremendous public-health concern,” said Dr. Lisa Miller, a state epidemiologist and principal investigator of the Colorado Autism and Development Disabilities Monitoring Network.

“One thing the data tells us with certainty — there are more children and families that need help,” said CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

Autism statistics tend to raise more questions than solve them, officials acknowledge. The Arapahoe County statistics show rates of autism at 1 in 50 boys age 8 but only 1 in 345 girls.

The state’s studies concentrated on Arapahoe County because schools there gave the best access to student records, an important component of the reviews. Cases are not identified by name or other personal markers.

The debate rages about causes of the range of behaviors called “autism spectrum disorder.” Some have posited long-term changes in diet, others exposure to environmental toxins or triggers. Some studies have shown a genetic component, but more than one gene could be involved, requiring far more research.

Public-health researchers go out of their way to say there has been no connection proved between autism and chemicals in childhood vaccines; a British study claiming a link has been thoroughly discredited.

“It’s going to be a while before we know. There’s a huge complex of information out there,” said Cordelia Robinson, a principal investigator on Colorado’s portion of the study.

Availability of services

Growth in recognizing behaviors as autism also comes from increased health and educational services in minority communities, where documented cases have shot up.

A diagnosis can help families access state insurance, education or human-services rules supporting treatment, though such support doesn’t cover all costs.

Recognition of what she calls an “epidemic” is some comfort to Zimmerman, whose son functions at the level of an 18-month-old and can be dangerous to himself and others. Parents such as Zimmerman, facing exhausting therapy demands and huge care bills, still battle for help within strapped school systems and shrinking state budgets.

Zimmerman dismisses vaccine theories but does believe there are genetic predispositions triggered by new environmental dangers. Logan’s behavior grew less volatile over months when she put him on a gluten-free diet, she said.

She knows the “something in the water” theories are vague but also argues that other childhood conditions are not growing as rapidly as autism.

“Look at the numbers,” Zimmerman said. “Autism has this huge, huge balloon in it. Something is going on.”

Michael Booth

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  • comment avatar Windbourne March 30, 2012

    Sadly, this has to be environmental. The fact that it blows up like this indicates that it can not be genetic.
    Have to admire Zimmerman’s attitude. She is brighter than Jenny McCarthy.

  • comment avatar Lisa U March 30, 2012

    I was just going to post that and I totally agree. A friend of mine pointed this out to me about the autism rate in Indiana back around year 2000. Here is an article that supports the environmental factor.

    I am not familiar with what is in the Arapahoe County area, not being a Colorado native, but I would not be surprised.

  • comment avatar Windbourne March 30, 2012

    Interesting link.
    Thank you.
    My only issue with it is that Landrigan seems to hint that vaccines could still be a cause, but, with the exception of the first study, every study has nixed that.

  • comment avatar Mickey March 30, 2012

    My theory on the rise in autism is the connection to children who were conceived by invitro fertilization. I have no evidence to back this up, but many children I know of who have been diagnosed with autism were conceived by invitro. We have a high propensity of invitro in the Denver area because of the experts who provide this service, it’s not paid for by insurance and it isn’t cheap. Arapahoe County is a higher income area, so maybe this connection makes sense.

  • comment avatar Bridget Sargent March 30, 2012

    My child got autism when he was 4 1/2. It was sudden and horrifying, like he had a stroke. No, he was not conceived invitro. Yes, it was after a flu shot. There are other studies that do back up the autism vaccine link. All we are asking is that parents do their homework before making medical decisions for their children. Jenny has always been a very bright advocate for our community and she was able to recover her kid. So, please don’t slam someone that’s been on our side. There a so few supports for us as it is.

  • comment avatar Kayal March 30, 2012

    The CDC is citing better diagnosis and screening. Not entirely sure there are not more false positives than needing. It’s not like they screen for autism like you would for cancer or blood deficiencies. Regardless, I think this is one reason people should be careful what they bring into their children’s environment. IE foods, plastics, cleaning supplies. If there was a reason for greening a home or lifestyle, I think this might be it.

  • comment avatar Anna March 30, 2012

    I’m skeptical of those numbers. Just seems a bit high to me.

  • comment avatar Rachel March 30, 2012

    Rampant and exponential increases in the use of Pitocin simply to speed up birth for the convenience of doctors. There is no logical reason to inject my and my baby’s godgiven body with a synthetic love hormone. Even the website asserts this possibility.

  • comment avatar Cathy March 30, 2012

    some obvious possibilities as to the “why”: earlier, more comprehensive screening is one. My question is what are the rates of diagnosis in other countries in the developed world?

  • comment avatar Carrie March 30, 2012

    eople need to understand that there are levels of Autism… kids can fall on any part of the spectrum even if they only show a few of the characteristics. Not all kids that are diagnosed with Autism are low functioning. I have worked with kids who were diagnosed that were very high functioning and to most people would not even seem “autistic”. I’m afraid that some doctor’s might be over diagnosing…

  • comment avatar Beckie March 30, 2012

    I think it is more a result of society’s need to label everyone and everything! I see no reports breaking down the percentages and to what degree these boys have autism. This reminds me of when studies were showing a rise in ADD, ADHD, AADD. Maybe these kids are just shutting down because they are exposed to so much, when I was a kid we went out and played. Social Media may be taking its toll and their young minds can’t process it all so they simply shut down. Parents need to start parenting again! There is also a study that shows this generation of children are the most coddled and indulgent ~ perhaps someone should look into that correlation!

  • comment avatar Alisha March 30, 2012

    There could be a number of factors and we will probably never find out the true cause. Fluoride, all the chemicals they pump into our food to keep it “safe”, vaccinations, synthetic hormones in our food, etc.

  • comment avatar Jennifer March 30, 2012

    Our environment and carcinogens from the chemicals in man made products.

  • comment avatar Sarah March 30, 2012

    ampant over medicating of children, including excessive vaccinating. Highly processed foods/poor nutrition/GMOs. And the list goes on, such an unhealthy country.

  • comment avatar Jessica March 30, 2012

    It is a spectrum disorder, whose definition has vastly expanded. With increased visibility and knowledge of the disorder, there is bound to be an increase in diagnosed cases. If these two factors stabilize and the incidences continue to rise, outside factors should be considered, but it’s too soon to point fingers.

  • comment avatar Jamie March 30, 2012

    There is more awareness now, and the “spectrum” is so large even the mildest, usually undiagnosed cases in the past are included in that number now.

  • comment avatar Laurie March 30, 2012

    It’s something in the environment — pesticides, food additives, something like that. I don’t think this is a case of a lot of normal kids getting overdiagnosed. Though I am sure misdiagnosis sometimes happens, it’s difficult to ignore the spike in ASD, ADHD and so on, in younger generations.

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