SALT LAKE CITY -- Many more children may have autism than previously thought.
Federal health officials say greater awareness, broader definitions and spotting autism in younger children may explain some of the increase.
Two new government studies indicate about 1 in 100 children are affected. An earlier study estimated 1 in 150.
The findings of this study don't surprise one Utah school that focuses on children with autism. KSL first did a story about Autism Journeys in Lehi about a year ago. We checked in with the school Monday and found it has grown tremendously.The school treats a variety of autistic patients and offers all different kinds of therapy under one roof, one of the only treatment centers to do so.
Garrett Hunter has Asperger's, considered one of the less severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
His mother, Karen Hunter, said, "He had quirky things from day one. He was really smart. He knew his ABCs at 18 months."
"He was always jumping, always flapping a little bit. Sometimes it's hard to carry on a conversation with him. Sometimes he'll answer, sometimes he won't," she said.
Did you know... as part of the American Recovery Act, President Obama awarded nearly $100 million dollars for autism research. -The White House
So his parents sought treatment at Autism Journeys, where Hunter learns to communicate, share his feelings, and play with other children.
Kate Anderson, founder of Autism Journeys, said, "I think what is most important is for families to realize they can live with autism, not suffer from autism."
We first did a story with Andersen last winter.
"In December 2008 we had four clients," she said. "After the story aired, we reached capacity with 45 clients."
Families were put on a waiting list, but just last week the school moved into a new facility that's twice as big.
About 1 percent of children 3 to 17 have autism or a related disorder. That is approximately 673,000 American children. -2007 National Survey of Children's Health
"Now we serve about 55," Anderson said. And it's accepting clients again. The cost depends on what treatment is needed -- it could be anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars a month to thousands of dollars a month.
"Combining treatments and coordinating with parents really produces the best outcome in the end," Anderson said.
Though there is no cure for Asperger's, Garrett is improving.
Karen said, "I used to ask him, ‘How was school?' and he wouldn't respond at all. Now, most of the time I'll get a response and he'll tell me things."
She said it's a huge improvement for a little boy who once wouldn't talk.