TODAY   |  March 28, 2014

CDC report: Autism numbers up 30 percent

Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC News’ chief medical editor, discusses the startling new Centers for Disease Control report that one in 68 children now has an autism spectrum disorder.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> now to startling new estimates on the prevalence of autism in the u.s. according to the centers for disease control , 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder up 30% over previous estimates and almost five times more common in boys with 1 in 42 diagnosed compared to 1 in 189 in girls. dr. nancy snyderman is the chief medical editor. dr. nancy, good morning to you.

>> hey, carson.

>> this seems like more than enough -- this seems like a surge in numbers. what's your take?

>> well, there's a mixed review. the numbers themselves are startling and speak to the fact that we have not only moved the goal post wider when we redefine autism spectrum disorder and not just autism. and also, you know, it raises the fact of whether we're looking more closely and diagnosing kids that perhaps before fell through the cracks. if you look at the 11 states the cdc looked at, there'ses s a disparity there, too. it speaks to the criteria we're looking for. but that big question that looms in every parent's gut is what causes this? the honest question is, we don't really know yet. could there be environmental factors ? certainly in some families, autism runs more commonly. earlier this week, there was a brilliant study out of rockefeller university looking at fetuses in the second and third trimester of development. and they can start to see early brain changes in autistic children even before they were born. it raises the real probability that this is something that happens in utero.

>> tell us more about that study that came out independently from the numbers we got yesterday. how big of a discovery is that perhaps it happens that autism is developed during pregnancy in the womb?

>> well, it adds to the growing body of evidence that this is something, is there a genetic switch that goes on in a mom or dad? is it related to paternal age? are there environmental toxins? could it be a virus? something like influenza that mom gets? could it be a generation skipping thing that happens to grandparents passed on to then the young adults who then have their children? this increasingly is where the science is going. and i know what i'm going to say now is going to irritate a lot of people, but it does increasingly mean it's not vaccines that cause problems when children get their baby shots. it goes to an insult earlier in fetal development . and we really have to start all getting on the same page and looking for the cause. we don't know it yet, but we're getting closer.

>> thanks for the insight, dr.