Nightly News   |  March 27, 2014

Growing Autism Diagnoses Puzzle Researchers

New data from the Centers for Disease Control demonstrate autism diagnoses have been steadily rising over the last decade.

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>>> new government findings tonight are finding a stunning and eyeopener look at the number of american families living with autism . based on the data, the center for disease control estimates that one in eight children has been identified with a disorder, about 13% higher than previous surveys. autism spectrum affects among other things speech and social interaction , this brings new urgency to finding the cause of autism and understanding why it is on the increase. our chief medical expert, dr. nancy snyderman , has more.

>> reporter: 6-year-old ava starts her day at the academy, a new day for children with autism . today, a surprising cdc survey of 11 states finds there is a dramatic jump in the number of children like ava , the cdc finds that the numbers are steadily rising over the last decade, girls are five times more likely than girls to have autism , one in 42 girls, versus one in 189 girls. what may be the most troubling facts, nobody knows what is behind the increase, experts conclude that some of the cases may have been previously overlooked.

>> physicians, health care providers, educators, are clearly getting better at identifying autism as well as the case definition , you know, what is autism , is really evolving.

>> reporter: the news comes as no surprise to kim cristo, whose daughter, ava , was diagnosed at 18 months.

>> no parent wants to hear that their child is diagnosed with autism , but you can't be afraid of the a-word, you have to fight.

>> reporter: experts conclude you should have early screening, most are diagnosed after age four, too late, experts say they can be diagnosed as early as age two.

>> early intervention leads to better care, and for us to provide access and care, any child who is diagnosed with autism , we know we can make a world, a lifetime of difference for children.

>> reporter: for families like ava 's, triumphs couple in simple acts.

>> the other night she said i want pizza for dinner, wow, she told me what she wanted. that was such a milestone.

>> reporter: kim cristos hopes this new report leads to better awareness and families with autism .

>> people look at very negatively. and i think that we need to change the way we look at it.

>> reporter: the main takeaway, parents should act early when there are concerns, so here are signs to watch for. by six months of age a baby should be smiling and making eye contact, by 12 months, responding to their names and pointing to objects and babbling, it is so important to talk to your daughter if you see a -- doctor if you see any signs of a developmental issue.