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Editorial |

Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Frederick P. Rivara, MD, MPH
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(5):548. doi:10.1001/archpedi.160.5.548-a.
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Few problems in child health have garnered as much attention in the last few years as autism. There are a number of reasons for this. First, a new category of disease termed “autism spectrum disorders” has been created that encompasses not only autism but disorders such as pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger disorder, and Rett syndrome. Second, the reported prevalence of the problem has increased markedly in recent years from as few as 4 per 10 000 children in the 1980s to as many as 50 per 10 000 today. It is unclear how much of this increased prevalence is because of better identification of affected children, increased services for children with autism, or broadened case definitions. Finally, at least some of the attention given to autism is concern that it might be induced by toxins in the environment affecting children before or after birth. Parents are concerned about these issues and turn to child experts—pediatricians—for advice.

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