“Discovering Autism”

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A recent series by Los Angeles Times looks at the causes of the ever growing number of individuals nationwide being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

Nearly one percent of children nationwide have autism, a 20-fold spike over the past two decades, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This expansion is due to a variety of factors, including an expanded definition of the disorder and increased efforts to identify autism.

However, autism rates vary widely depending on factors such as location, race and economic backgrounds. For example, the L.A. Times report found that the autism rate is as high as 1.6 percent in Orange County, or more than three times higher than rates in other counties where there are fewer resources for identifying autism spectrum disorders.

This disparity in identification has also led to led to large differences in how much the state spends on supporting different people with autism. The L.A. Times found that the state spends on average more then $11,000 per year on white and Asian children with autism, compared to less than $6,000 on black and latino children.

Much of this spending is used on high in demand early intervention programs, such as applied behavioral therapy, that are used to help children learn to work with their disabilities.

Many parents are quite successful pushing state agencies to provide services, while other parents have been far less successful.

“Part of what you’re seeing here is the more educated and sophisticated you are, the louder you scream and the more you ask for,” said Soryl Markowitz, an autism specialist at the Westside Regional Center, which arranges state-funded services in West Los Angeles for people with developmental disabilities.

The four-part series also provides information on the history of autism spectrum disorders, the science of autism, among other features.