When Did Autism Start to Rise?

The prevalence of autism has been on the rise in recent years, and many people are wondering when and why this trend started. In this article, we will explore the history of autism and the factors that may have contributed to its increase.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
December 3, 2023

When Did Autism Start to Rise?

The History of Autism

Autism was first described by Leo Kanner in 1943, who identified a group of children who displayed a unique set of symptoms that he referred to as "early infantile autism." However, there is evidence that autism has existed for much longer than that. Some historical figures, such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, are believed to have had traits consistent with autism.

Despite this, the diagnosis of autism remained elusive for many years. It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that autism began to be recognized and diagnosed more widely. Before that, many children with autism were misdiagnosed with other conditions or simply labeled as "difficult" or "challenging."

Fortunately, with advances in medical research and the dedication of countless experts, autism is now more widely recognized and understood. Organizations such as Autism Speaks and the Autism Society of America provide resources, support, and education for individuals with autism and their families.

There is still a long way to go in terms of fully understanding autism and finding effective treatments, but the progress made so far is truly remarkable. With continued research and advocacy, we can continue to improve the lives of those affected by autism.

toddler's walking on the seashore with adult

The Rise of Autism

The prevalence of autism has been increasing steadily over the past few decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, the estimated prevalence of autism was around 1 in 2,000 children. Today, it is estimated to be 1 in 36 children.

There are several factors that may have contributed to the rise in autism prevalence. One factor is increased awareness and diagnosis. As more people become aware of the signs and symptoms of autism, more children are being diagnosed at younger ages.

Another factor is changes in diagnostic criteria. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was updated, which changed the definition of autism and broadened the criteria for diagnosis. This change may have led to an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism.

Finally, there is ongoing research into the causes of autism, which has shed light on the genetic and environmental factors that may contribute to the development of the disorder. However, much is still unknown about the causes of autism, and more research is needed to fully understand the rise in prevalence.

Economic and Social Implications of Autism Prevalence

The rise in autism prevalence has significant economic and social implications. According to a report by the Autism Society, the lifetime cost of caring for an individual with autism can range from $1.4 million to $2.4 million, depending on the level of support needed.

This cost is not just borne by families, but also by society as a whole. The increased demand for services and supports for individuals with autism puts a strain on healthcare systems, educational systems, and social services.

In addition to the economic impact, there are also social implications of autism prevalence. Individuals with autism may face challenges in finding employment or accessing community resources. They may also experience stigma and discrimination due to their condition.

However, there are efforts underway to address these issues. Many organizations are working to increase awareness and understanding of autism, as well as advocating for policies and programs that support individuals with autism and their families.

By investing in research, education, and support services for individuals with autism, we can help ensure that they have the resources they need to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to society in meaningful ways.

How to Recognize the Early Signs of Autism in Children?

Early detection and intervention are critical for children with autism. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the sooner they can receive support and treatment that can help them thrive.

Here are some early signs of autism that parents and caregivers should look out for:

  • Lack of social interaction: Children with autism may have difficulty making eye contact, responding to their name, or engaging in play with others.
  • Delayed speech: Many children with autism experience delays in language development or may not speak at all.
  • Repetitive behaviors: Children with autism may engage in repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping, rocking, or lining up toys.
  • Sensory sensitivities: Children with autism may be oversensitive or undersensitive to certain sensations, such as touch or sound.

If you notice any of these signs in your child, it's important to talk to your pediatrician right away. They can refer you to specialists who can evaluate your child and provide recommendations for next steps. With early intervention and support, children with autism can reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

Autism Spectrum Disorder vs Other Developmental Disorders

It's important to differentiate between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders, as they can have similar symptoms but require different treatments.

One common developmental disorder that is often confused with ASD is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD may also display hyperactive or impulsive behaviors, but they do not typically have difficulty with social interaction or communication.

Another disorder that can be mistaken for ASD is intellectual disability (ID). While individuals with ID may struggle with social and communication skills, they typically do not display the repetitive behaviors or sensory sensitivities associated with ASD.

Finally, some children may exhibit symptoms of anxiety or depression that can be mistaken for ASD. It's important to work with a healthcare professional to accurately assess and diagnose any potential developmental disorders in children. This way, appropriate treatment and support can be provided to help them thrive.

The Controversy Around Vaccines and Autism

One of the most controversial topics surrounding autism is the relationship between vaccines and the disorder. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that there is no link between vaccines and autism, this myth persists in popular culture.

The idea that vaccines cause autism can be traced back to a now-debunked study published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, which claimed a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The study was later found to be fraudulent and retracted by the medical journal that published it.

Since then, numerous studies have been conducted that have found no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism. In fact, many studies have shown that there is no increase in the prevalence of autism among vaccinated children compared to unvaccinated children.

Despite this, some parents continue to avoid vaccinating their children out of fear of causing autism. This has led to outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough in some communities.

It's important for parents to understand that vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illnesses. By getting their children vaccinated, they are not only protecting them from disease but also contributing to herd immunity, which helps protect vulnerable populations who cannot receive certain vaccinations.

In conclusion, while the relationship between vaccines and autism remains a controversial topic, it's important for parents to base their decisions on facts rather than misinformation. Vaccines are a crucial tool in protecting public health, including those with autism spectrum disorder.

Overcoming Caregiver Challenges in Autism

Caring for individuals with autism can present unique challenges for caregivers. Individuals with autism may have difficulty communicating their needs, may experience sensory sensitivities or meltdowns, and may require additional support to navigate daily activities.

Caregivers of individuals with autism may experience higher levels of stress and burnout compared to caregivers of individuals without disabilities. It's important for caregivers to prioritize self-care and seek out support from others who understand the unique challenges they face.

One way to overcome these challenges is by seeking out resources and support services. Many organizations offer respite care, therapy services, and support groups specifically for caregivers of individuals with autism.

In addition, it can be helpful for caregivers to educate themselves about autism and learn strategies for supporting individuals with the disorder. This can include learning how to communicate effectively, managing behaviors, and creating a sensory-friendly environment.

By taking proactive steps to address the challenges of caregiving, caregivers can provide the best possible care for their loved ones with autism while also taking care of themselves.

Treatment Options for Autism

While there is no cure for autism, there are many treatment options available that can help individuals with the disorder lead fulfilling lives. The most effective treatments for autism are often a combination of therapy and medication.


There are several types of therapy that can be helpful for individuals with autism, including:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on teaching new skills and behaviors through positive reinforcement.
  • Speech Therapy: Many children with autism experience delays in language development or have difficulty communicating. Speech therapy can help improve communication skills.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy can help individuals with autism develop daily living skills, such as dressing and grooming, and improve their sensory processing abilities.


While medication is not a cure for autism, it can be helpful in managing certain symptoms of the disorder. Some commonly prescribed medications for individuals with autism include:

  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotic medications can be helpful in treating aggression, irritability, and other behavioral problems associated with autism.
  • Stimulants: Stimulant medications such as Ritalin or Adderall may be prescribed to treat hyperactivity or attention deficits in some individuals with autism.
  • Anti-anxiety Medications: Some individuals with autism may benefit from anti-anxiety medications to manage anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

It's important to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of treatment for each individual with autism. With the right combination of therapy and medication, individuals with autism can reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

How technology can be used to support individuals with autism?

Technology has the potential to greatly improve the lives of individuals with autism. There are many tools and resources available that can help support communication, socialization, and daily living skills.

One example is assistive technology, which includes devices such as speech-generating devices or visual schedules that can help individuals with autism communicate their needs and navigate daily activities. These tools can be customized to meet each individual's unique needs and preferences.

In addition, there are many apps and software programs designed specifically for individuals with autism. These include social skills training apps, educational games, and sensory regulation tools. Many of these apps use visual aids or incorporate gamification to make learning more engaging for individuals with autism.

Virtual reality (VR) technology also shows promise in supporting individuals with autism. VR can provide a safe and controlled environment for practicing social skills or navigating challenging situations, such as airports or doctor's offices.

While technology should not replace human interaction or therapy, it can be a valuable supplement to traditional interventions. By leveraging the power of technology, we can help individuals with autism reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

Strategies for promoting social skills and communication in individuals with autism

Social skills and communication can be challenging for individuals with autism. However, there are many strategies that can be helpful in promoting these skills.

One effective strategy is social skills training, which involves teaching individuals with autism how to interact effectively with others. This can include role-playing exercises, group activities, and coaching on appropriate social behaviors.

Another strategy is the use of visual aids such as picture schedules or social stories. These tools can help individuals with autism understand social expectations and navigate social situations more effectively.

Speech therapy is also an important tool for promoting communication skills in individuals with autism. A speech therapist can work with an individual to improve their language development, articulation, and pragmatic language skills.

Finally, it's important to create a supportive environment that encourages social interaction and communication. This can include providing opportunities for group activities, creating a sensory-friendly space, and using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.

By implementing these strategies, we can help individuals with autism develop the social skills and communication abilities they need to thrive in their personal and professional lives.


When did autism first start to become more prevalent?

While autism has likely existed throughout history, it wasn't until the early 20th century that it was formally recognized as a disorder. The prevalence of autism began to increase in the 1980s and 1990s, which some researchers attribute to changes in diagnostic criteria and increased awareness of the disorder.

Is there evidence that environmental factors are causing the rise in autism?

While there is ongoing research into potential environmental causes of autism, no single cause has been identified. Some studies have suggested possible links between certain environmental factors such as air pollution or prenatal exposure to certain chemicals and an increased risk of autism, but more research is needed.

Can vaccines cause autism?

No. Numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism, and the theory that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly debunked. Vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illnesses, including those with potential complications for individuals with autism.

What can be done to address the rising prevalence of autism?

Efforts to address the rising prevalence of autism should focus on increasing awareness and understanding of the disorder, improving access to diagnosis and treatment services, and investing in research into its causes and effective treatments. By working together across sectors, we can support individuals with autism and their families while also reducing the economic burden on healthcare systems, educational systems, and social services.


In conclusion, the prevalence of autism has been on the rise in recent years, and several factors may have contributed to this trend. While much is still unknown about the causes of autism, increased awareness and diagnosis, changes in diagnostic criteria, and ongoing research into the disorder are all important factors to consider.