A new report shows a sharp increase in the number of Arkansas kids being diagnosed with autism.
The study released Thursday says one in every 65 eight-year-olds have the disorder, which is characterized by impaired social interaction and restricted behaviors. The estimate is based on data from 2010.
Eight years earlier, one in every 145 kids at that age in Arkansas were considered to be autistic.
The study was conducted by the Arkansas Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It's part of a national effort in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Maya Lopez is one of the researchers involved in the program and says part of the increase may be related to changes in the criteria of how kids are diagnosed.
“Before, the idea was that individuals with autism tended to have very low functioning abilities, not be able to talk or not being able to do a lot for themselves. But research has shown that this is not true anymore,” Dr. Lopez said.
“Now we are seeing kids who are more high functioning, (with) more potential to be productive adults, definitely more communicative, but having that core feature of social communication deficit.”
The study found that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. White children are also more likely to be associated with the disorder compared to black and Hispanic children. But Dr. Lopez says part of that is also related to the fact that white children are more likely to be tested.
She says it’s a good idea for a first assessment of a child, which is primarily based on behavioral characteristics, to be done when a child reaches 18 months.
Arkansas is already taking action to allocate more funding for autism services and is reviewing how schools work to meet the needs of children with the disorder.