Local News

Bay Area autism diagnoses increasing

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A new report shows the number of Bay Area students diagnosed with autism has been rising every year. The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health compiled the latest numbers given to them by the state Department of Education and the numbers have parents and researchers questioning the causes and the reasons for the continuing increases.

Alex Jaeger of Milpitas was diagnosed with autism 14 years ago.

"There just weren't many kids out there and now they are everywhere," Jeager's mother Johanna Jaeger said.

Between 2005 and 2007, 90 percent of Bay Area schools reported a rise in the number of students with autism.

Santa Clara County had the highest number, nearly eight autistic kids per 1,000 students. The lowest was Marin County with five per 1,000.

Dr. Antonio Hardan is the director of the autism clinic at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. He believes the diagnosis is much broader today.

"There are definitely kids who are diagnosed with autism that maybe 20 years ago might not have been diagnosed as having autism," Hardan said.

Diana Conti is not convinced. She is with PARCA, a group providing programs for people with autism.

"It is so exponential that it cannot be explained away by better diagnosis," Conti said. "I think there is something going on we need to look at."

Some suggest the environment or genetics have something to do with it.

Hardan believes there are some students who are misdiagnosed on purpose.

"If you are diagnosed with autism you will get more services from the county from regional centers than if you just have an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or depression," Hardan said.

"Parents don't make this stuff up to say, 'oh gosh, I can't wait to get into that system,'" Jaeger said. "You know it's not a club that most parents look forward to joining."

Today, the vast majority of kids with autism are being served by the public school system.

"And it's put an incredible amount of pressure on the school districts that try to serve them and to try serve them effectively because they are very different kids," Jaeger said. "There are some successes and some that really struggle."

Jaeger is more concerned about what will happen to Alex and others as they move into adulthood with the state not fully prepared to deal with them.

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