Autism prevalence is on the rise

How parents, medical professionals say it impacts our future
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 7:19 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Although her kids may act differently than their peers, mom Bethany Gregory said her family is just like any other.

Even on the tough days, the Gregory home is filled with singing, dancing and laughter. As a mom of two children with autism, Gregory said it’s taken years to understand what autism is. And yet, she learns more about it every single day, and she’s hoping others are willing to learn along with her, as autism prevalence continues to climb.

Clinical Nurse Specialist for Sparrow Hospital, Mary Kisting, said the number of autism diagnoses has nearly doubled in the last decade. In 2012, she said the rate of autism was one in every 88 children. By 2018, it had risen to one in every 68 children. Today, one in every 44 children in the United States are diagnosed.

Within the first few years of 7-year-old Benjamin’s life, Gregory said she was already noticing her son’s lack of speech. At the time, she was still lacking in knowledge about what symptoms could or could not indicate autism, so she held off on seeking a diagnosis.

“I thought autistic kids don’t make eye contact, and our son made eye contact. I thought, well, autistic kids are not affectionate, and he was very affectionate,” she said. “So it was kind of like, ‘well he’s making eye contact, he’s affectionate, so we’re good.’ It can’t possibly be autism.”

With 8-year-old Shiloh - who the Gregorys adopted from China when she was just 2 and a half years old - the symptoms were more obvious.

Kisting said it’s important that parents know that exhibiting some symptoms of autism isn’t a clear indicator that autism is actually present. But if they notice difficulty with peer interaction or repetitive behaviors, like flapping arms and rocking back and forth, it may be worth mentioning to a primary care doctor.

In the last year, Kisting said Sparrow has implemented an autism screening system for patients as they come into the hospital. Even if it doesn’t lead to a diagnosis, Kisting said screening can be crucial in securing an early diagnosis. Gregory, too, urges parents who suspect their child has autism to seek a diagnosis as soon as they can.

“Early intervention is key. They can help so much, even if your child is older,” she said. “There’s so much hope out there and so much help. It’s not like it was even 10 or 20 years ago.”

With autism becoming more widespread, Gregory said increasing awareness and education is going to become more important. Because the children diagnosed with autism now are adults diagnosed with autism in the future.

“We’re going to be working with autistic people. We’re going to be sitting next to them,” she said. “I mean, these are going to be our husbands, and the wives, and the families one day.”

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