Diagnosis rates — and therefore spending on treatment — vary dramatically from place to place.
In California overall, 1.1% of public elementary school students have been identified as autistic, a Los Angeles Times analysis found. But the rate in Orange County (1.6%) is nearly triple that of Fresno County. Many rural school districts list no autistic students at all.
Autism accounts for 14% of the caseload at the Central Valley Regional Center, one of the nonprofit agencies that arrange state-funded services for people with developmental disabilities. At the seven regional centers in L.A. County, it accounts for 34%.
Such variations are seen across the country. The autism rate in Minnesota schools, for example, is 10 times that in Iowa.
Researchers say the differences are too wide to represent true disparities in the prevalence of autism. More likely, they are the signature of social and cultural forces, reflecting how new perceptions and attitudes about autism have taken root to different degrees in different places.
Southern California, long a center of autism research and treatment, is simply further along.
But nearly everywhere, the new iteration of autism is spreading, one child at a time.
A driving factor is that parents, physicians and educators have become intent on identifying it as early as age 2, in the hopes of diminishing its symptoms through treatments that are now widely available.
“It used to be that autism was the diagnosis of last resort,” said Catherine Lord, director of the Institute for Brain Development at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a leading authority on autism diagnosis. “Nobody wanted it. Now it is seen as preferential.”
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Autism in California
The Los Angeles Times is starting a four-part series on autism: