CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Blue lights will be lit across West Virginia and around the globe on Wednesday for World Autism Awareness Day.

This year’s event comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control released a report showing the rate of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis jumped 30 percent between 2008 and 2010.

According to the CDC, one in 68 children now receives such a diagnosis.

“I was surprised that it dipped into the 60s,” said Dr. Marc Ellison, interim executive director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University, of the report.  “I think most people expected something less than the one in 88 that it was, but the fact that it dipped into the 60s was surprising to me.”

CDC officials have not been able to attribute the increase to any one factor, though the number of diagnoses has been steadily climbing since a national surveillance system was first established 14 years ago.

Ellison said the numbers could be the result of higher rates for the disorder, more sensitive screenings or some kind of combination of the two.

“We do know that the definition has been broadened over the years.  We do know that more individuals who wouldn’t have fit the criteria in 1985, for example, are being diagnosed,” he said.

In the new report, about half of the children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder had average or above average intelligence.  A decade ago, the same could be said of a third of the children diagnosed.

“That, to me, impresses our need to even more fully do independent living skills, social skills, those kinds of things as early as possible to help folks really be a contributing member (to society),” said Ellison.

Ellison was a guest on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline” for the start of Autism Awareness Month.

More information about the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University is available here.

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