California Autism Cases Nearly Double in 4 Years
From: Robina Suwol
Date: 26 Oct 2003
Remote Name: 126.96.36.199
California Autism Cases Nearly Double in 4 Years * A state report documents
the rapid growth of the neurological disability.
Scientists aren't sure what's causing increase.
By Rosie Mestel, Times Staff Writer
The number of autism cases has nearly doubled in California in the last four
years, and the rate of increase appears to be accelerating, according to a
study by the state Department of Developmental Services.
The report, scheduled to be released today, found that the number of people
with autism who are receiving services from the department rose from 10,360 in
December 1998 to 20,377 by the end of December 2002 ?? a 97% increase.
The findings follow a 1999 report from the department that found a 273%
increase in autism cases from 1987 to 1998. The increase was much steeper than
for other disorders, and well out of proportion to the growth of the general
"The report is very significant," said Cliff Allenby, director of the
Department of Developmental Services. "Autism is continuing to grow much
faster than the population, much faster than any of our other clients with
disabilities ?? and it begs some review and research to try and figure out
Autism is now the fastest-growing disability served by the department,
according to the report.
Advocates and professionals involved in autism treatment and research reacted
with dismay at the new numbers.
"That's amazing, that is a big jump," said Dr. Dan Geschwind, director of the
neurogenetics program in UCLA's department of neurology. "Assuming the
methodology is sound, I would say one has to take that very seriously."
Rick Rollens, who is the parent of an autistic child and was instrumental in
creating the MIND Institute for researching autism at UC Davis, said: "This
report is shocking and deeply troubling If this sobering report does not give
our national public policy leaders a wake-up call, I don't know what will."
The report offers no explanation for the steep increase. Scientist don't even
know what causes autism, a disorder in which children appear socially cut off
from the world and often have profound handicaps in areas such as speech. Both
genes and environmental factors are believed to be involved, but scientists
have few clues as to how it develops.
Some experts suspect that part of the increase in autism, which refers to a
spectrum of related neurological disorders, may be a result of greater
awareness by parents and doctors over the last decade. In other words, more
children are correctly diagnosed than in the past, said Ron Leaf, co-director
of Autism Partnership in Seal Beach, which treats children with autism.
There are also more effective therapies today, giving parents reason to seek
state assistance, thus increasing the state's tally of autism cases.
But others believe the increase cannot be explained away in this fashion. The
numbers from Department of Developmental Services included only people with
more severe autism, and did not count those with subtler forms ?? the kind
that would have most likely been missed in the past, said David Amaral,
research director of the MIND Institute.
A study last year by the MIND Institute concluded that the increase could not
be explained by a change in the way autism is diagnosed or by a migration to
the state of autistic people seeking services.
Scientists are homing in on a number of genes thought to predispose children
to autism, which tends to run in families and affects identical twins more
often than fraternal twins. They are also considering a range of environmental
factors that may trigger the disorder in those children genetically
susceptible, such as exposures to viruses or toxic materials.
Many parent advocates are especially concerned about a potential link between
autism and the dozens of vaccinations that babies and toddlers receive,
although studies do not support such a link.
"What's clear is the disorder is very complex and there are probably going to
be a number of contributing factors to increased numbers," Amaral said.
Whatever the cause of the increase, parents of autistic children and
scientists say the state report jibes with what has been reported in other
parts of the country and what they have seen themselves.
"It is terrible," said Portia Iversen, the parent of an autistic child and
co-founder of Cure Autism Now, a Los Angeles organization that funds autism
research. "It is such an unimaginable battle trying to get the funding you
need, trying to find the right place to take your child. You can spend a year
on a waiting list."
The report counted only people over 3 years old who were professionally
diagnosed with autism and sought services through the Department of
Developmental Services, such as speech and behavioral therapies, and
assistance with daily living for adults.
Between 3 and 18 years old, autistic children receive most services through
their local school districts. The state and the local school districts are
feeling an increasing financial strain from providing services for people with
"Our costs are going up very rapidly," said Allenby of the Department of
Developmental Services. "But we are managing."
Last changed: March 14, 2006