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- The ARC - California Edition -

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Autism Epidemic Reported

During the past 12 years, California has had a 210% increase in the number of autistic children and adolescents enrolled in programs operated by the state Department of Developmental Services, according to a recent department survey. The DDS presented this epidemic report to the state legislature with a request that funds be authorized for a study by the University of California at Davis into the causes of autism and the increased number of cases.

The DDS report makes their conclusion on the basis that there were 11,995 autistic children enrolled in the departmentís statewide programs during 1998, and that this number has increased 210% from the 3,864 enrolled in 1987.

During this same period of 12 years, the state population growth was about 35%. Other major disorders, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and mental retardation, have increased consistently with the stateís population growth.

The chief concern of DDS is how much of this increase is a reflection of actual growth in autism, and how much is caused by an increased diagnosis, and greater awareness among the professionals. Even with an increased awareness, professionals are reporting that they are concerned that there is an increase in the actual prevalence. The funding request presented to the legislature could lead to a study which could obtain better data in order to validate or disprove the DDS concern.


Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Ordinarily autism appears during a childís toddler years and obstructs their normal development.

This disorder results in the severe impairment of a personís abilities, particularly in speaking, motor movement, and social relations. An afflicted child usually has abnormal responses to one or more external sensations, such as: sight, hearing, touch, pain, balance, smell, or taste.

The worldwide incidence of autism has been reported to be about 1 case in every 2,500 births. It is four times more common in boys than girls, and has been found in families of all ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds.


Disorder 1987 1998 %Change
Autism 3,864 11,995 +210
Cerebral Palsy 19,972 28,529 +43
Epilepsy 22,683 29,645 +31
Mental Retardation 72,987 108,563 +49
Total 80,483 136,383 +69


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