Report indicates Utah no longer has highest rate of autism spectrum disorders

Posted at 10:18 PM, Mar 27, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-28 00:18:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- There is a big spike in the number of children with autism. The CDC says there's been a big increase across the country, and it turns out Utah no longer leads the nation in autism.

New Jersey now has the highest number of autism rates, but one Utah parent thinks the latest Centers for Disease Control report is flawed, saying the study only looked at a specific age group.

While our state's numbers remain virtually unchanged, doctors are trying to determine why the numbers have jumped 30 percent nationwide.

"It's not surprising,” said James Vaughn, whose teenage boy has autism. “I fully expected that the numbers would start to rise, just because of what we are seeing across the country and globally."

He and his wife were among the Utah parents attending a new play at Weber State University. "Mockingbird" explores the effects of autism. It's a story that hits close to home for one 18 year old highly functioning autistic girl, who came with her mom to see the debut of the show.

"I have some troubles remembering things and talking to people,” Kanike Kuoha said. “I tend to express myself better in writing, but I have a little trouble talking to people."

A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder; that's a 30 percent increase from 2012 when the CDC reported 1 in 88 children. The newest estimate comes from the evaluation of health and educations records of 8-year-old children in Utah and 10 other states.

Utah's autism prevalence rate is holding steady. New Jersey is now first in the nation when it comes to the number of autism cases. Utah is number two. The Utah Autism and Developmental Disabilities monitoring project said 1 in 54 children in the state have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which is about 2 percent and the same number as 2008.

Vaughn believes the numbers in Utah are probably higher saying, "There are a lot of kids in Utah that have autism, eclipsing that 8 year old age limit they were looking at, so it's not surprising the numbers changed a little bit."

"I think scientifically we're trying to understand why we're seeing such a large increase," said Dr. Adam Schweback, the Director of the Neuropsychology Center of Utah.

He said the CDC study doesn't explain why there's been a spike but thinks the new numbers reflect more awareness and perhaps a case of children being misdiagnosed with autism.

"I think one of the concerns we have is if children are accurately being diagnosed with autism,” Schweback said. “I think the concern is maybe the prevalence rates are due to more awareness, that we're more aware of what the condition is. But we also need to be conscious of how accurately children are being diagnosed with autism, making sure those children really do have this particular condition.”

The CDC report also found boys are five times more likely to have autism than girls. Doctors said the findings are puzzling but said males do tend to be at higher risk for mental health disorders and disabilities.