Nightly News   |  March 20, 2013

One in 50 school children has autism

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control indicate the biggest increase in autism is occurring in mild cases in the spectrum of autism disorders but it doesn’t necessarily mean there has been an increase in children with the neurological changes labeled as autism. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports.

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>>> as we mentioned at the very top of the broadcast tonight the health news this evening is this. the number of children with autism in this country may be a lot higher than previously thought according to new research from the cdc. tonight our chief science correspondent robert bazell has a look at what's behind these new numbers.

>> reporter: the latest numbers show that autism diagnoses have grown to the point where parents report that fully 1 in 50 school age children has autism . aiden myers was diagnosed two years ago.

>> it's scary. i think that we obviously need to figure out what is going on.

>> reporter: hello, aiden . no one doubts the diagnosis. he is clearly not terribly p disabled. he was late starting to speak and he's working to overcome learning disabilities at the reed academy in new jersey.

>> awesome.

>> reporter: the latest numbers from a telephone survey with the federal government showed the highest increases occurring in mild cases like aiden 's along the spectrum of autism disorders as opposed to children who are withdrawn socially and unanyone to speak. the reported number of children with autism grew from 1.16% in 2007 to 2% now. that means about 1 million children in the united states are now diagnosed with autism .

>> look. say, mom, come watch me.

>> come watch me.

>> reporter: the new numbers don't necessarily point to a genuine increase in children with neurological problems labeled as autism .

>> a lot of things are changing. one, awareness is changing. we hear about autism in many different circles. two, clinicians are recognizing autism much more frequently. both of those factors are certainly playing into the increased numbers that we are seeing.

>> reporter: the experts say more research is needed to know for certain whether other factors are involved in the ever growing numbers of american children diagnosed with autism .

>> aiden , where's the lollipop?

>> the lollipop.

>> yeah.

>> reporter: robert bazell , nbc news, new york.