An oft-cited statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the prevalence of autism among children could be wrong, according to an article in the latest issue of the journal Autism.

The CDC says that one in 68 children now has autism, up from one in 88, the estimate it reported back in 2012. (Full disclosure: Civil Beat has used the CDC statistics in its own reporting.)

But the Autism article suggests that the CDC number is flawed because it relies on unreliable data.

Autism stock photo

A visual interpretation of what the world is like according to the mind of an autistic child.

hepingting via Flickr

The CDC bases its estimates on children’s records and doesn’t conduct independent assessments. The records are subjective and could actually under- or overstate the existence of autism in a child because of the variation in local policies, resources and awareness, according to the researchers.

Here’s Education Week’s Christina Samuels’ take on the findings:

Simply put, without direct assessments of children, we will not know the extent to which the CDC-determined “cases” include false positives, or the extent to which children who it was determined do not have autism are really false negatives. Social impairments and repetitive behaviors are present in many other childhood psychiatric disorders and developmental disabilities, The flaws in this methodology certainly could explain the great variation in prevalence, clinical presentation, and racial disparities by site.


The CDC told Education Week that it stands by its methodology and said the records offer a comprehensive look at autism’s prevalence across the country.

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