HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – There’s a higher rate of children being diagnosed with autism now than ever before.

According to a recent study done by the CDC, 1 in 44 children were diagnosed with autism in 2021 compared to 1 in 54 children diagnosed in 2020.

Jim Harris, the Associate Director with the West Virginia Autism Training Center, says the high numbers come as a surprise to his team.

“You see a little bump here and there through the years, and the prevalence rate has been increasing through the years, but 1 in 44 was released, and it shows you that the need is increasing every year,”

Jim Harris, Autism Training Center Associate Director

He says, based on the trends we’ve seen so far, we can only expect numbers to increase.

Why are the numbers higher?

“One element of it is our systems of communication are much better now. When you think about when they were first starting to collect that data—even going back to paper records—who was submitting the records, who was collecting them, and did you have several different groups of people that didn’t communicate well providing that information? Where now we have databases, electronic record keeping, and now things are much more fluid,” says Harris.  

He says with better technology, doctors are able to keep better records, and they’re able to pick up on signs earlier, which leads to more accuracy.

What signs should parents look for?

“It depends on the age and stage of your child. The key things we’re looking for specifically are issues with social communication, issues with communication in general, responsiveness in relationships and social communication. Sometimes you’ll see kids who also have repetitive behavioral patterns, echolalia, insistence on sameness, you know those kinds of things,” says Harris.

He says they also look to see if children are hypo or hypersensitive to sensory information like sounds, smells, or lights.

Harris says he encourages parents or guardians to bring any concerns to the attention of a primary healthcare provider sooner than later.