Recent CDC 1 in 50 Autism Rate Increases Anxiety In Expectant Parents and Parents Planning For Pregnancy

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Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Founder and Director of Ashburn Psychological Services, sees an increase in anxiety for expectant parents and parents planning for pregnancy with new CDC Autism rates.

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D., NCCE, NCPC

Autism is an epidemic on a global level, but it is not a curse on an individual one.


With last month’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (the CDC) reporting that as many as 1 in 50 children in U.S. schools have Autism, the topic of Autism has created an increase in parental anxiety in Dr. Michael Oberschneider's work as a psychologist. "Parents want to know what the CDC’s study and those numbers could mean for them and their own potential for having an Autistic child," says Dr. Oberschneider.    

In Dr. Oberschneider's experience, the parents who are most concerned are those who are either planning for pregnancy or who are pregnant and expecting. Dr. Oberschneider reports that one parent he met with recently expressed a profound sense of relief after learning that the sex of their fetus is female, reminding the psychologist that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism than girls. And, another parent indicated that, while they would love a fourth child, they do not want to “take any chances with Autism being so rampant.”

Dr. Oberschneider posits "We have all watched the rates grow year after year, so I’m not surprised that parents are becoming more anxious about Autism. In 2000, the Autism prevalence rate in the US was 1 in 500 and over the past 13 years those numbers have climbed to today’s CDC’s finding that 1 in 50 US school children have Autism."

One explanation for the startling increases is that diagnosis is improving and older children are now being diagnosed at higher rates. According to Dr. Oberschneider, the CDC’s research findings have mirrored what he has been seeing in his practice for several years now, where he is diagnosing older children (who are usually male) who are generally high functioning. Dr. Oberschneider says that he has spoken to his colleagues whose experiences are similar, and he asserts that child psychologists all over the country are likely having the same sort of experience in their practices – that there is subset of children with High Functioning Autism, Asperger’s Disorder or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) that are not being identified or diagnosed until later in childhood.

Presently, there is no medical test or genetic test that can identify Autism during pregnancy. However, several factors are associated with higher rates of Autism, including: premature births, babies low in weight at birth, low Apgar scores, parental age (for both fathers and mothers), high maternal stress, maternal use of certain medications, maternal hormonal and genetic status and fetal hypoxia. Some research has even shown a correlation with Autism and cesarean section delivery and having a baby in less developed countries than the US or Europe.

Unfortunately, most of the above mentioned factors for Autism are not in one’s control. Thus, pediatricians, family physicians, psychologists/psychiatrists, and other professionals who work with clients planning for pregnancy and expectant parents need to be prepared to discuss Autism and related anxieties with their clients. For Dr. Oberschneider, preparation and education are the essential ingredients for diminishing parental anxiety.    

Dr. Oberschneider's advice to his concerned clients is for them to focus on what is in their control -- good maternal health at birth and good prenatal care. He also discusses the importance of early intervention and its proven positive impact for children on the Autistic Spectrum. Dr. Oberschneider also places importance on supporting and working with parents whose children are being diagnosed later inasmuch as older children and adolescents on the Spectrum can benefit from behavioral therapy and social skills interventions.

Autism is an epidemic on a global level, but it is not a curse on an individual one. Dr. Oberschneider asserts that some of the happiest parents he knows (both personally and professionally) have children on the Autistic Spectrum. He adds, "it has been my honor and pleasure to work with many children, adolescents and adults with Autism over the years."

PRESS CONTACT: Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and the Director of Ashburn Psychological Services, a private mental health practice in Ashburn, VA. To learn more about Dr. Oberschneider and his approach to Autism diagnosis and treatment visit or call (703) 723-2999.

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