Landmarks around the world, including New York’s Empire State Building, will shine blue lights on Wednesday to show their support for autism awareness. Organizations large and small will host events to raise awareness of the growing public health issue of autism spectrum disorders.
World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) follows a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics show, According to the report, one in 68 American children have an autism diagnosis, a 30 percent increase from a CDC study conducted last year, and more than double the number of children estimated to have autism in a 2000 study.
Experts do not know whether autism is actually affecting more people or whether diagnoses have increased as awareness of the disorder grows. According to CDC estimates, approximately 1.2 million people under the age of 21 in the U.S. have some form of autism.
Autism continues to be more prevalent in boys than in girls, with boys being diagnosed at a rate that is four and a half times greater than the rate for girls. Autism is also diagnosed more commonly in white children than in Hispanic or African-American children, which researchers believe is primarily due to a difference in reporting rather than in actual prevalence of the disorder.
Autism awareness focuses on the push for earlier diagnoses. Currently, autism can be diagnosed as early as age two, but most diagnoses are made around age four and a half. Greater awareness could result in earlier diagnoses, and researchers are currently studying ways of identifying higher risks of developing autism even in infants. The earlier a risk of autism can be identified, the earlier that intensive interventions can make a positive impact on the child’s development.
The Health and Human Services Department announced that it is launching an “unprecedented” initiative to help with earlier diagnoses, including research-based screening tools that families can use to identify possible indicators of autism in their children.