Autism is a catch-all term for a group of brain disorders that interfere with a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others — even close family members. The signs of autism in toddlers can range from subtle to severe; in fact, there’s such a range of behaviors associated with autism that the more exact term for this cluster of ailments is autism spectrum disorders, or ASD. The good news is, since toddler autism signs usually surface before age 3, most children can start getting help very early.
Approximately 1 out of 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is more common in boys than in girls (1 in 37 boys have been identified with the disorder, compared to 1 in 151 girls), and it’s more common now than it was nearly two decades ago, when about 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with autism.
Why the jump? It could be partly because more moms know about the disorder and are spotting early signs of autism in their toddlers and informing their pediatricians. The increase in autism rates could also be due to the wider range of behaviors that are now being labeled as part of the autism spectrum. Environmental factors such as exposure to pesticides or chemicals in household products, as well as viruses, may also be contributing to the rise.
Experts aren’t positive, but they think it’s a combination of genetics and exposure to environmental factors or pollutants. People must display the attributes assigned to autism and must show them first in childhood. It's possible that more risk factors for autism exist in 2021 than in the past. For example, if polluted air really can spark autism, and air quality gets worse each year, that could explain the increasing number of children diagnosed.