HealthDay News —  An estimated one out of every 88 8-year-old children had an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2008, the most recent date for which data is available, the CDC reports.

This is a relative 23% increase from a 2006 analysis using the same surveillance network — the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, the largest of it’s kind — which estimated an ASD prevalence of one per 111 children. The 2008 numbers represent a 73% relative increase from 2002, according to a surveillance summary published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“ASDs continue to be an important public health concern,” Jon Baio, EdS, of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues wrote. “The findings provided in this report confirm that prevalence estimates of ASD continue to increase in the majority of ADDM Network communities, and ongoing public health surveillance is needed to quantify and understand these changes over time.”

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The researchers found that, among the 14 ADDM sites, the overall estimated prevalence of ASDs was 11.3 per 1,000 children, with estimates varying from 4.8 to 21.2 per 1,000 children across sites.

ASD prevalence estimates varied by gender, with about one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls identified with ASDs. In addition, non-Hispanic white children had a higher ASD rate than non-Hispanic black children or Hispanic children (12 per 1,000 versus 10.2 and 7.9, respectively).

ASD prevalence was assessed at the age of 8 years, which is when ASD prevalence peaks, and was based on analysis of the children’s evaluation records from multiple sources, including general pediatric health clinics, specialized programs for children with developmental disabilities and special education programs in public schools.

The researchers noted that ADDM sites are not nationally representative, so the results cannot be generalized to children throughout the country.

Centers for Disease Control. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2012;61(SS03);1-19.