By Dr. Malika Marshall, WBZ-TVBy Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – Right on the heels of a recent study suggesting that the brain abnormalities associated with autism may begin prenatally, the government has just issued a new report saying that the number of children with autism continues to rise, now reaching about 1.2 million children and teens in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control has just released its newest numbers on autism. It is now estimated that 1 in 68 children may have some form of the disorder, a 30 percent increase from just two years earlier.

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The CDC looked at data on more than 5,000 eight-year olds in eleven states, not including New England. They found that while autism affects about in 1 in 189 girls, it is almost five times more common in boys, closer to 1 in 42.

The report did not address why more children are being diagnosed, but experts believe these new numbers reflect an increase in awareness among parents, teachers, and physicians.

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More and more parents are bringing their children to doctors with concerns, and more minorities are being diagnosed than ever before, probably due to better access to care and advocacy.

Also, a greater number of children who are considered higher functioning, are being identified as having autism.

Two things that haven’t changed over recent years,…children are still being diagnosed late, usually after the age of 4, even though earlier intervention may improve outcomes. And advocates worry that while more and more children are being diagnosed with autism, funding has not risen accordingly.

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Dr. Mallika Marshall