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Surge in Autism Cases Confounds Researchers, Expert Says


Surge in Autism Cases Confounds Researchers, Expert Says

By Victor M. Inzunza

The nation is in the midst of an “explosion” in the number of children with autism and researchers are at a loss to explain the surge in cases, said an expert in the treatment of childhood developmental disorders at a conference at Fordham University.

Speaking at the Fordham Graduate School of Education’s fifth annual Early Childhood Conference on April 27, Cecelia McCarton, M.D., said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate the prevalence of autism among American children at 1 in 150.

“These children are coming at us day after day after day,” said McCarton, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine and founder of the McCarton School, which treats children with autism. “The numbers are staggering. I would say that 15 years ago, if I saw two children a month who … were classified as being autistic, that was a lot ... . Now, I probably see four or five cases a week that come to my office.

“We don’t know the reason for this. We simply don’t know the reason this is occurring.”

Autism is a spectrum of developmental disabilities that strike early in childhood that can interfere with the ability to communicate, learn and form relationships, locking some young people in a kind of mental prison.

The conference, which was co-sponsored by Los Niños Services, Autism Speaks and Riverside Publishing, drew more than a dozen scholars and healthcare professionals from throughout the country to discuss the latest research on and treatment of autism and developmental disabilities.

Autism is a particularly difficult disorder to treat, McCarton said, because of its pervasive nature. Unlike disorders that affect only motor skills or speech and language, she said, autism “cuts across every single developmental area.”

For McCarton, a key is to first get a comprehensive evaluation of the child that includes such things as a neurological exam, cognitive testing, speech and language assessments, and physical and occupational therapy evaluations.

This comprehensive exam should form the basis of a tailored and multidisciplinary plan to help the child overcome some of autism’s most ravaging effects.

“If you give a diagnosis [of autism], it is not a death sentence,” she said. “There is hope. What we are able to do now with children who are on the [autism] spectrum would have been inconceivable 50 years ago. So there is tremendous hope. Of course, it’s sad. Nobody wants that for their child…, but we can really do something about this.”

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