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Study profiles rate of autism in Wisconsin

MADISON -- A Wisconsin autism surveillance project reported today that approximately five out of every 1,000 Wisconsin children born in 1994 display symptoms indicative of autism.

The Wisconsin Surveillance of Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities System, part of a national study overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, evaluated children in the first phase of a study to determine the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the U.S. The national study is the largest effort to date to obtain accurate counts and monitor affected populations over time. The CDC today (Feb. 8) released the first set of results from the project, reporting autism prevalence in study sites nationwide among children born in 1994.

Reported cases of autism - a developmental neurological disorder characterized by avoidance of social interactions, poor communication skills, and unusual behaviors - have increased dramatically over the past 15 years, but it is unclear whether those increases simply reflect growing awareness and recognition of the disorder or something more, says Maureen Durkin, an epidemiologist in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and leader of the Wisconsin project.

"The public health community was caught off-guard by the increasing numbers reported in the 1990s," she says. "But there was no system in place for monitoring autism."

The CDC-led study, launched in six states in 2000 and expanded to 14 states, including Wisconsin, in 2002, aims to fill that need by obtaining more accurate counts of children with autism in multiple geographic locations, comparing autism rates among different groups of children, and looking for changes in rates or populations over time. Rather than relying upon previously recorded autism diagnoses, trained clinicians evaluated information in children's medical records against standardized psychiatric criteria to assign a
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Contact: Maureen Durkin
mdurkin@wisc.edu
608-263-2128
University of Wisconsin-Madison
8-Feb-2007


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