NEW YORK (March 20, 2013)-- A government survey of parents in the U.S. found that one in 50 schoolchildren has autism, which surpasses another federal estimate for the disorder.
Health officials say the new number doesn't mean autism is happening more often, but say it does suggest that doctors are diagnosing autism more frequently, especially in children with milder problems.
The earlier government survey, which estimated 1 in 88 U.S. schoolchildren has autism, looked at medical and school records.
The latest survey involved interviews with more than 95,000 parents in 2011 and 2012.
For decades, autism meant children with severe language, intellectual and social impairments and unusual, repetitious behaviors, but the definition has gradually expanded and now includes milder, related conditions.
The new estimate released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would mean at least 1 million children have autism.
"We've been underestimating" how common autism is,” Michael Rosanoff of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, said.