The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their latest figures on autism on Thursday, revealing that 1 in 88 American children has some form of autism spectrum disorder, a 78 percent increase over the last decade.
The report reignited debate on whether the increase in autism is due to greater awareness and diagnosis, or a real increase based on changes in the environment.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden said, "doctors have gotten better at diagnosing the condition and communities have gotten better at providing services, so I think we can say it is possible that the increase is the result of better detection," according to Reuters.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends autism screening for all children at the ages of 18 months and 2 years, because evidence shows that early detection gives children the best chance of reaching their potential, according to the Associated Press.
More on GlobalPost: CDC: US autism rates jump 78 percent in past decade
So, what is autism?
According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (National Institutes of Health), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior."
Autistic disorder, also called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, whereas milder forms of the condition include Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The CDC says people with autistic disorder usually display "significant language delays, social and communication challenges and unusual behaviors and interests." Many who are diagnosed with autistic disorder also have intellectual disabilities.
Asperger syndrome involves milder symptoms, including social challenges and unusual behavior. People with Asperger's typically do not have difficulties with language or intellectual disabilities.
PDD-NOS, also known as atypical autism, means that people exhibit only milder symptoms, which contribute to social and communicative challenges.
The NIH has a list of signs and symptoms to look for when diagnosing ASD:
-no babbling or pointing by age 1
-no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
-no response to name
-loss of language or social skills
-poor eye contact
-excessive lining up of toys or objects
-no smiling or social responsiveness.
Later indicators include:
-impaired ability to make friends with peers
-impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
-absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
-stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
-restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
-preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
-inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.
The latest CDC report found that boys were five times more likely than girls to develop autistic symptoms, according to Bloomberg. It also found that an increasingly large proportion of children diagnosed with autism had IQs of 85 or higher, contradicting past assumptions that most autistic children had IQs of 70 or lower.
The treatments for autism include applied behavior analysis, medications, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language therapy. The medications are used to treat behaviors and symptoms including aggression, anxiety, attention problems, hyperactivity, mood swings and sleep issues, according to the NIH.