Autism is a neurological and developmental condition related to brain development. Autism impacts the way individuals perceive and socialize with others and interact with their surroundings. Signs of autism can usually be observed in the early childhood years. Autism is defined by a specific set of behaviors that affect a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others. There are different degrees of autism, but some common behaviors associated with this disability include poor motor skills, repetitive behaviors, delayed speech, difficulties with reasoning, very narrow interests, and impairments in social interactions and communications (such as a diminished ability to detect social cues).
In recent years, cases of autism have risen. The Center for Disease Control announced in 2021 that the rate of autism in the U.S. during 2018 was 1 child in 44. This is a notable rise from rates given in Scientific American, for 2016 (1 in 68, though other sources claim an even-higher 1 in 54 by age 8), 2008 (1 in 88) and 2000 (1 in 150). Moreover, this trend of rising autism, which dates back to the early 1990s, is a global occurrence not confined to the United States. Prevailing theories suggest that the rise is largely due to increased awareness and diagnosis of autism rather than a massive increase in overall occurrences of autism. However, autism is more likely in babies with older parents, who are more common in today's world, and in babies born prematurely, who survive more often now than in previous eras.
No single cause of autism has been identified, but early diagnosis is key to improved outcomes. Although there is no cure for autism, symptoms can be managed, and often fade slightly during adulthood, though they do not disappear entirely. The Global Health Data Exchange compiled the autism rates for all countries worldwide for people of any age. The countries with the lowest autism rates were developed countries in Europe. France had the lowest autism rates of 69.3 per 10,000 people or 1 in 144 people. Portugal followed with 70.5 per 10,000 or 1 in 142.
Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Autism Rates:
|Rank||Country||Cases per 10,000||Simplified Rate|
|1||France||69.3||1 in 144|
|2||Portugal||70.5||1 in 142|
|3||Iceland||71.9||1 in 139|
|4||Norway||72.0||1 in 139|
|5||Italy||72.0||1 in 139|
|6||Germany||72.2||1 in 139|
|7||Greece||72.4||1 in 138|
|8||Austria||72.6||1 in 138|
|9||Belgium||73||1 in 137|
|10||Spain||73||1 in 137|
On the other end of the scale:
Five Countries with Autism Rates above 100 per 10,000:
- Qatar — 151.2 per 10,000 (1 in 66)
- United Arab Emirates — 112.4 per 10,000 (1 in 89)
- Oman — 107.2 per 10,000 (1 in 93)
- Bahrain — 103.3 per 10,000 (1 in 97)
- Saudi Arabia — 100.7 per 10,000 (1 in 99)
Challenges of measuring and comparing autism rates around the world
Tracking the rates of autism around the world is a significant challenge for several reasons. First, there are no specific, uniform criteria for assessing and diagnosing autism. It cannot be confirmed with a blood test, brain scan, or any other objective exam. It has to be diagnosed through expert clinical observations of a person's behavior. Secondly, even if there were a straightforward yes/no test, many nations lack the resources to conduct assessments. Thirdly, many nations do not track or report their autism rates.
Autism and the anti-vax movement
A 1998 paper led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed to have discovered a link between use of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and increased rates of autism. While the paper was criticized for improper science and retracted by its publisher, the idea that vaccines caused autism had already taken hold. As of April 2022, no reproducible, peer-reviewed studies had confirmed that such a link exists.