When autism first caught the eye of the scientific community in the 1940s, it was considered a rare disorder. While no major studies were completed during this era, most professional estimates found that about 1-2 children per 10,000 had autism.
Today, autism is recognized in many circles as an "epidemic" or "crisis" that is directly impacting the lives of many millions of Americans. Thanks to devoted parents, committed researchers and nothing short of a media frenzy, autism has become the subject of close scrutiny as well as a great deal of hype.
What is important to understand is this: while the rates found in studies have increased as the years have passed, many believe they reflect an increase in diagnoses of ASD, as opposed to an increase in actual prevalence.
According to the most recent finding of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 1 in 68 children (or 14.7 per 1,000 eight-year-olds) in multiple communities in the United States has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This new estimate (March 2014), is roughly 30 percent higher than previous estimates reported in 2012.
It can be argued that we have become much more skilled at identifying individuals who have autism spectrum disorders. With awareness of ASD increasing globally, deeper knowledge has undoubtedly made its way to physicians and other diagnosticians who may not have been as familiar with ASD 20 years ago. In addition, many individuals with ASD simply would not have been diagnosed with any disorder in the past, including adults receiving diagnoses of Asperger's Disorder who now account for a percentage of the ASD population. In other words, the perceived increase in prevalence could be attributed, in part, to better diagnostic tools and a greater sense of awareness.