Autism Findings Little Surprise to Parents

New Jersey, for example, was found to have a nearly 1 percent prevalence of autism among children. In Alabama, on the other hand, autism appeared to be roughly one-third as common.

"It may be in part due to differences in how things were sampled," says Cynthia Johnson. "Even though this was a good study by the CDC, there were differences in terms of the records that could be accessed from state to state."

She says the difference may also be attributed to parents who move to other states to take advantage of medical and support services.

Still, Rice says, further research could reveal other factors present in individual states that would have an effect on the prevalence of autism.

A Growing Public Health Concern

Last year, Congress allocated $945 million to fight autism. Today, advocacy groups are calling for more -- and the recent findings could support this appeal.

Autism organizations say additional funds may come not a moment too soon.

As growing numbers of those with autism reach the age of 21 -- the age at which they will no longer be eligible for services provided through the educational system -- many parents worry that they will not be able to provide all of the care and support their children need.

"The adults who care for these children are not ready to deal with that," says Catriona Johnson. "This study may help us sort of think forward in terms of the services that will be needed to care for those with autism into adulthood."

One option may be to fund programs that allow those less profoundly affected to live as independently as possible. Many, with adequate support, have shown that they are able to hold a job and otherwise become productive members of society.

The alternative, Sell says, is an expensive one.

"If we don't start providing them a little support, they will continue to be a drain on society, and that could end up bankrupting the health care system," he says.

Findings Offer Hope

Even though the study confirms a higher prevalence of autism, parents and advocacy groups are hopeful that the new findings will prompt additional research and services to deal with autism.

"I think this is what the autism community has been struggling with for the last five to 10 years -- getting enough public awareness in order to get services in place," Catriona Johnson says.

And the CDC findings could spur both the public and the government to act quickly to find new ways to deal with this growing public health issue.

"My hope is that this will generate conviction," Cynthia Johnson says. "If you think about it, one in 150 children, that's petrifying for families. We need to work even harder to understand autism."

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