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Autism cases rise in US

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Autism cases are on the rise again, largely due to wider screening and better diagnosis, federal health officials said Thursday.

The rate of U.S. cases rose to about 1 in 88 children. The previous estimate was 1 in 110.

This new number means autism is nearly twice as common as officials said it was only five years ago, and likely affects roughly 1 million U.S. children and teens.

The autism rate in North Carolina is higher than the national rate. Researchers found one in 70 children and teens are diagnosed with the disorder.

"It's a wake-up call," said Kim Shufran, founder of the iCan House, a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem that helps people with autism try to overcome their social challenges.   "The increased instances and what we're hearing about and what we're seeing in our communities is really a phenomenon and changing our culture."

Many health officials contribute the increase in autism to greater awareness and knowing what signs to look for, but there may be more to it.

"I really think there's something happening in the environment. There's something happening, whether it be dietary components of the children or prenatal before children are born or in the early years," Shufran said.

The CDC study released Thursday is considered the most comprehensive U.S. investigation of autism prevalence to date.

Researcher gathered data from areas in 14 states -- Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

They looked specifically at children who were 8 years old because most autism is diagnosed by that age. They checked health and school records and calculated how common autism was in each place and overall.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.