The NYU Child Study Center's Dr. Bennett Leventhal is among the authors of a groundbreaking new study on autism that has surprised many experts and may change the way the disorder is measured and screened for in the future. The findings gauged the prevalence of autism at 2.6 percent of the study population, more than twice the rate generally reported worldwide. Current estimates from developed countries rate the prevalence of the disorder in the general population as closer to 1 percent.
The study, conducted by experts from the Yale Child Study Center, George Washington University, and others including Dr. Leventhal of the CSC, screened every child aged seven to 12 in the Ilsan district in the city of Goyang, in South Korea. This approach meant that among the children screened were many whose caregivers had never sought evaluation for any type of mental health disorder.
At a news conference publicizing the study results, Dr. Leventhal said he believed that using this approach in the U.S. would yield similarly higher rates of the disorder. "If researchers went into the grade schools in their communities and looked there, we think they would come up with numbers similar to those we are reporting," Leventhal said at the news conference. "This means there are uncounted children who are not in the services system."
This is particularly important because symptoms of autism, which include difficulty forming social and emotional connections with other people, can often be greatly improved with early intervention and treatment.
The authors emphasized that the higher rate of the disorder was not due to an escalation in new cases of autism, but rather to cases that had previously gone undiagnosed. Among children who had previously been screened for mental health issues, the researchers found rates of autism similar to what had been reported by earlier research.
* * * * *
Concerned about your child, or a child you know? For more information on services available at the CSC, see our main Clinical Services page and our page on autism spectrum disorders. You can also read more about autism in our A-Z Disorder Guide.
* * * * *
In March, the CSC hosted a forum on autism. You can see video interviews with the experts who spoke, including Dr. Katherine Matthews of the Faison School for Autism in Richmond, Va., and the CSC's Dr. Melissa Nishawala. They offer practical advice on the diagnosis and treatment of autism and the outlook for children with this disorder.