A local autism expert is warning about recent statistics that suggest autism rates are more prevalent than originally thought.

New numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate one in 50 children live with autism compared to the previous figure of one in 88 children.

Terri Duncan with Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton says the public needs to take those numbers with caution because the studies were done using different methods.

“You really can’t say that those two studies are comparable,” Duncan said.

“You have to get it context. You can’t look at any number in absolute terms. You can’t say that it’s absolutely one in 88 or it’s absolutely one in 50 you have to look at it in the context of how it was studied.”

The recent figure of one in 50 came after a telephone survey of parents with children aged six to 17, while past studies examined medical and school records with different age ranges.

Despite differing methodologies, Duncan says the recent study does show more children are being diagnosed with the disorder, which typically makes communication and social interactions difficult.

“There has been an increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism. We can’t look at the absolute numbers and compare them to other absolute numbers but we can look at the difference, the change over time and that tells us that there has been an increase in the diagnosis,” Duncan said.

“It’s a confirmation.”

But Duncan says it’s difficult to say just prevalent autism is and adds no study like the CDC’s has been done in Canada.

“How common is autism in the Edmonton community? We don’t know,” Duncan said.

“We haven ever studied the rates in Canada. That’s the other piece that’s important to remember here. These are U.S. studies.”

Shyla German’s son Jayden was diagnosed with autism when he was two.

German says early diagnosis meant early treatment and she likes hearing about new research because she believes it brings more awareness to the disorder.

That, German hopes, should translate into more services for families like hers.

“It’s becoming more known. The fact that we’ve been able to pin point what it is, we’ve been able to find the right resources and the right help,” German said.

German believes having Jayden diagnosed early – and getting supports and help in place for him at a younger age – has been beneficial for him.

“The first five years are so important,” German said.

“The fact that we started when he was two, means he was able to develop so much more. He went from not engaging with us at all to engaging more. He’s starting to engage with me a lot more and now he’s starting to do it with other people and more kids. He’s also starting to attempt to talk.”

With files from Carmen Leibel