Has the rising awareness of autism contributed to the prevalence?
Increased awareness of autism has undoubtedly contributed to its rise in prevalence, Durkin says.
Until the 1980s, many people with autism were institutionalized, rendering them effectively invisible. Studies show that parents who are aware of autism’s presentation — by living near someone with the condition, for example — are more likely to seek a diagnosis for their children than parents with no knowledge of the condition. Living close to urban centers and having access to good medical care also boost the likelihood of diagnosis.
Greater awareness of autism is also likely to boost CDC estimates by increasing the chances that autism traits, such as lack of eye contact, show up in school and medical records, says Fombonne.
Policy changes may have also played a role. In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended screening all children for autism during routine pediatrician visits at 18 and 24 months of age. This move may have led to diagnoses for children who would otherwise have slipped under the radar.
Are there other factors that have influenced prevalence?