Study: More kids have autism than previously diagnosed

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SAN DIEGO - A recent study by Centers for Disease Control found that one in 88 children now have autism.

Eric Estepp looks like your typical 14-year-old, but at the age of two, he was diagnosed with autism.  Most know it as a developmental disorder that affects behavior, social and communication skills.

"He runs cross country, he has friends, he text messages," said Becky Estepp, Eric's mother.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 150 children were diagnosed with the disorder in 2002.  The number steadily increased every two years. 

The most recent study by the CDC finds one in 88 children now have autism.  The study also found one in 54 boys have autism compared to one and 252 girls.

"I know some people wonder if we are better at diagnosing these days and it might be part of it but a lot of it, we really don't know," said pediatrician Dr. Marshall Littman.

Dr. Littman said one of the driving factors behind autism is genetics.

"I personally believe it's a combination of genetics and as still unclear, environmental factors," said Dr. Littman.

The study also found most children were diagnosed later at four and five, Dr. Littman said being diagnosed earlier is critical.

"The brain in children is quite plastic, meaning it's quite remarkable and responds to all the appropriate inputs which can make a tremendous difference," said Dr. Littman.

When Estepp was 7-months-old a video captured him responding to his mother's voice.  Just four months later, his mother said she noticed a difference in him after he was given the Hepatitis B shot.

"He reacted to the nine month Hepatitis B vaccine," said Estepp.  "Within 3 hours he was screaming."

What Estepp's mother really wants to know is when autism will be seen as an epidemic.

"The CDC is not using these words - which makes me angry," said Estepp.

Dr. Littman said there is no scientific proof that shows autism is linked to vaccinations.  He also said this information will help, he and other doctors be more vigilant when examining young patients. 

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