Why Are Autism Rates Increasing?

Over the past decade, an increase in autism rates in the United States has been noted. According to data, the rates have seen a steady increase over time. In 2012, it was reported that 1 in 88 children had an autism diagnosis. By 2014, that number had risen to 1 in 68, and the latest data suggest a further increase to 1 in 36. But why is autism on the rise? [i]

It's important to note that the rising autism rates over time may not necessarily mean that more people have autism. Instead, the observed increase may be a result of improved screening efforts and more public education about autism.

This has led to greater awareness and understanding of autism, resulting in increased efforts to identify individuals who may have previously gone undiagnosed. The expansion of diagnostic criteria and better access to healthcare and evaluation services have also contributed to the higher reported rates.[ii]

As for why autism rates are increasing, it’s possible to view the increasing rates as an indication of a greater awareness and understanding of autism rather than a higher prevalence of the condition.

At the Drake Institute, we employ advanced treatment technologies to develop personalized treatment for individuals with autism. By utilizing brain map-guided neurofeedback and neurostimulation, we help our patients reduce their symptoms and achieve more fulfilling and successful lives.

To learn more about our specialized and non-drug treatment for ASD, please fill out our consultation form or contact us directly at 800-700-4233.


What Is Autism? 

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity. Autism typically manifests in early childhood and usually lasts throughout a person's life.

The exact causes of autism are still not fully understood, but it is widely believed to be a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors. Research suggests that genetic changes that are passed down to the child from the parent may play a role in the development of autism, as it tends to run in families. However, it is important to note that no single gene has been identified as the sole cause of autism. [iii]

Other factors, such as prenatal and perinatal complications, exposure to certain environmental toxins, and maternal infections during pregnancy, have also been studied as potential contributors to the development of autism.

Autism affects individuals differently, leading to a wide spectrum of symptoms and challenges. Some common signs of autism include difficulties in social interactions, difficulty understanding and responding to social cues, and challenges in developing and maintaining relationships. Communication difficulties may manifest as delayed or atypical language development and repetitive or unusual speech patterns.

Even if the child has or achieves normal language development, there still can be difficulty understanding nonverbal communication. Individuals with autism can exhibit repetitive behaviors, intense interests in specific topics, and sensory sensitivities.

While there is currently no cure for autism, early intervention and appropriate support can significantly improve an individual's quality of life.

How Common Is Autism?

Autism is a relatively common neurodevelopmental disorder in the United States. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 36 children in the U.S. has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. This estimate is based on data collected from multiple communities across the country and provides a broad understanding of autism prevalence.

Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, with a male-to-female ratio of about 4:1. However, this ratio may vary depending on the specific subgroup within the autism spectrum.

It is worth mentioning that autism prevalence rates can vary across different states and communities within the U.S. The CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network provides valuable data on autism prevalence and helps identify trends and patterns of the disorder.

These prevalence estimates are crucial for policymakers, healthcare providers, and researchers to allocate resources and develop appropriate support services for individuals with autism and their families. [iv]

When Did Autism Rates Start To Rise?

The term "autism" itself was not recognized until the 1940s, and it took several more decades for the diagnostic criteria and awareness to evolve.[v]

Autism rates started to rise in the United States noticeably since the 1960s, although it is important to note that the understanding and diagnosis of autism at that time were different from today's standards. According to Scientific American, researchers in 1966 estimated the prevalence of autism at just 1 in 2,500.[vi]

The introduction of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1994 broadened the criteria for diagnosing autism, resulting in a larger number of individuals being identified with the disorder, causing a further increase in autism rates. [vii]

In 2013, the DSM-V revised the diagnosis into one umbrella of autism spectrum disorder, which included previous disorders of Autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified.

As a result, the rise in autism rates may not necessarily mean that the actual prevalence of autism has increased dramatically. In fact, some experts even argue that the increase is primarily due to improved identification and reporting, rather than a true rise in the number of individuals with autism.

Why Is Autism More Common Now?

If autism prevalence hasn’t increased, then why is autism more common now than 50 years ago? Why is autism increasing in multiple populations?

The prevalence of autism has appeared to increase over time for several reasons. As autism becomes more well known, there is more awareness of early signs of the disorder, which leads to more parents asking for screenings and more identification of autism spectrum disorder.

Changing health factors, like increased survival rates for preterm babies and new environmental threats may be contributory.

Below are some reasons why the increase in autism is becoming apparent: [viii] [ix]

Broadened Criteria For Diagnosis:

The broadening of diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder has played a significant role in the increased prevalence of autism. Over time, the diagnostic criteria have expanded to encompass a broader range of behaviors and symptoms associated with ASD. This expansion has enabled healthcare professionals to identify and diagnose individuals who may not have met the previous diagnostic criteria. By including a wider spectrum of individuals, the broadened criteria have contributed to the higher rates of autism diagnosis.

Increased Screenings:

The increased availability and utilization of screenings have also contributed to the higher rates of autism diagnosis. Healthcare providers, educators, and parents have become more aware of the early signs and symptoms of autism, leading to improved screening efforts. Screening tools and assessment methods have also improved, allowing for more accurate identification of autism in children at an earlier age. Increased screenings have helped in identifying individuals who may have gone undiagnosed in the past, leading to a rise in autism diagnoses.

Increased Awareness:

Increased awareness and understanding of autism have played a crucial role in the increase in autism rates. Through efforts in public education, media representation, and advocacy, awareness about autism has significantly expanded. This heightened awareness has led to increased recognition of autism-related behaviors and symptoms, prompting parents to seek evaluations and diagnoses, or rule it out. By improving awareness, more individuals with autism are identified and receive the necessary support and intervention at earlier ages.

Increased Survival Rates For Preterm Babies:

Improved medical care and advancements in neonatal care have resulted in increased survival rates for preterm babies. Premature infants who may have faced significant health challenges in the past are now more likely to survive and develop. However, preterm birth is associated with a higher risk of developmental disorders, including autism. The increased survival rates for preterm babies have contributed to a larger population at risk for developing autism, leading to a higher prevalence of the disorder.

Environmental & Other Factors:

While the exact causes of autism are not fully understood, environmental factors have been studied as potential contributors to the rise in autism rates. Viral infections during pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk of autism in some studies. Additionally, vitamin deficiencies during critical periods of brain development have been hypothesized to play a role. Gut inflammation and imbalances in the gut microbiome have also been investigated as potential factors. Furthermore, exposure to certain toxic chemicals, such as pesticides or air pollutants, during pregnancy or early childhood has been suggested as a potential environmental risk factor for autism. Ongoing research aims to better understand the influence of these environmental and other factors on autism development.

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

The process of diagnosing autism begins with monitoring developmental milestones. Parents, childcare workers, grandparents, and teachers who regularly interact with the child play a crucial role in observing and noting any potential signs or symptoms of developmental delays.

It is important to have a good understanding of the typical signs of autism to recognize possible developmental delays and neurodevelopmental concerns. During pediatric visits, healthcare professionals may ask specific questions about the child's developmental milestones to monitor their progress.

Formal developmental screenings are typically conducted during well-child visits at specific ages, such as 9 months, 18 months, and 30 months. More comprehensive screenings for autism spectrum disorder are typically done at 18 and 24 months.

If a developmental screening suggests the possibility of ASD, then an ASD evaluation should be performed. This evaluation will assess whether the child meets the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder as defined by the DSM-5. The evaluation process involves a thorough assessment to determine the presence of ASD symptoms and help establish an accurate diagnosis which is essential to develop an appropriate treatment plan.[x]

Can Children Grow Out Of Autism?

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder, and the general consensus among experts is that individuals with autism do not "grow out" of the condition. While it is true that some children with autism may show significant improvements in their symptoms and abilities over time, the core challenges associated with autism tend to persist into adulthood.

Research has shown that early intervention and targeted therapies can greatly improve the quality of life for individuals with autism. With appropriate support and interventions, children with autism can develop skills that help them improve skills in social interactions and communication, enabling them to carry out daily activities more effectively. Many individuals with milder symptoms may develop compensatory strategies to cope with their challenges, which can lead to improved functioning in certain areas.

However, it is important to note that even individuals who show significant progress may continue to face difficulties or limitations in social interactions that neurotypical individuals are unlikely to experience. Autism is a complex condition with a wide spectrum of clinical manifestations, and everyone’s journey is unique. While progress and growth are possible, it is unlikely that a child will completely "grow out" of autism.[xi]

Can Autism Be Cured?

At present, there is no known cure for autism. Autism is considered a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder; however, some individuals may experience a reduction in symptoms over time. While there are various interventions, therapies, and treatments available that can help individuals with autism improve their quality of life, these approaches do not cure autism itself.

While individuals with autism can make significant progress and gain valuable skills through appropriate interventions and support, the underlying neurodevelopmental factors associated with autism typically persist, though in some cases, they may lessen. Therefore, rather than seeking a cure, the emphasis is placed on improving symptoms and empowering individuals with self-regulation so they can thrive and lead fulfilling lives.

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism

For more than 40 years, the Drake Institute has been using advanced treatment technologies to treat a variety of brain-based medical conditions such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and stress disorders including PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more.  With a technology-driven combination of brain mapping and neurofeedback, our Medical Director creates customized treatment protocols to address each patient’s needs. Here’s our process:

Brain Mapping

For the most effective treatment, we initially perform a functional analysis of the autistic patient’s brain activity through quantitative EEG brain mapping. Brain mapping helps us identify which specific areas or networks of the brain are experiencing dysregulation linked to symptoms. 19 sensors are placed around the scalp encompassing areas of the brain responsible for language, social/emotional understanding, memory, executive functioning, and behavioral/emotional regulation.

The sensors measure and record brainwave activity that is processed through a normative FDA-registered database of neurotypical individuals.

When we compare the patient’s results with those of neurotypical individuals, we can identify regions or networks of the brain that are dysregulated that can be improved. Once we know which areas are dysregulated associated with symptoms, our Medical Director then develops individualized treatment protocols.


During neurofeedback training, sensors are once again placed on the scalp. The sensors record brainwave activity that is then displayed visually in real-time on a computer screen with auditory feedback as well. When the brain can see the results of what it is doing, it can then change and modify its activity to more preferable functional patterns.

During neurofeedback treatment sessions, no drugs are administered, and there are no invasive procedures involved. Instead, the patient is improving their own brain functioning, guided by visual and auditory feedback, which tells the brain when it’s working better.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by qEEG brain map findings to gently stimulate the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients may benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

For over forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, and hypertension achieve an improved quality of life by reducing their symptoms. To get help for yourself or a family member, please call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the consultation form.


[i] https://psychcentral.com/autism/why-is-autism-increasing

[ii] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-real-reasons-autism-rates-are-up-in-the-u-s/

[iii] https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-causes-autism

[iv] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

[v] https://www.statnews.com/2022/02/10/theres-no-autism-epidemic-but-there-is-an-autism-diagnosis-epidemic/

[vi] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-real-reasons-autism-rates-are-up-in-the-u-s/

[vii] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-real-reasons-autism-rates-are-up-in-the-u-s/

[viii] https://psychcentral.com/autism/why-is-autism-increasing

[ix] https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/autism-rates-rising-more-prevalent-versus-more-screening-rcna67408

[x] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html

[xi] https://psychcentral.com/autism/can-you-grow-out-of-autism

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dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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