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One in 45 children have been diagnosed with autism, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was released last Friday.
But while the study shows that more than 2 percent of kids ages 3 to 17 have autism spectrum disorder, researchers are quick to point out that the seeming increase—up from one in 68 children, in a previous study—is due to a more accurate diagnosis rather than an increase in the disorder among children.
"I think within this report we found that the way that we ask the parents about autism spectrum disorder can have an impact on the way the parents respond to the question," Benjamin Zablotsky, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics and a leader on the survey, tells Today.com.
Zablotsky and other researchers surveyed more than 40,000 U.S. households with children ages 3 to 17 and specifically asked if any of those children had been diagnosed with autism.
"We feel we are asking the question in a better way than before," Zablotsky tells Today.
That contrasts to previous studies, in which parents were asked if their children had been diagnosed with a developmental disorder, including autism, according to the site.
As a result, the more targeted question revealed a seeming increase in the autism diagnosis while also showing a seeming decrease in other developmental disorders.
"[T]he prevalence of other developmental disorders declined significantly from 4.84 percent based on 2011–13 data to 3.57 percent based on 2014 data," the researchers wrote.
Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term that is used to include a group of developmental disabilities that can affect behavior, communication and social interaction, according to the CDC.
And while the governmental organization is still researching the causes of autism, awareness of the disorder in the U.S. has increased, leading to more accurate diagnoses, experts say.
"These kids have always been there," Laurie Alderman, a research scientist at George Washington University in the special education department, tells NBC News.
However, these children have also been given different diagnoses in the past due to overlapping symptoms with other disabilities.
"These kids were in special education because they had 'mental retardation' or a physical disability, a learning disability, ADHD," Alderman continues.
"We're just changing a child's diagnosis from, let's say, intellectual disability and mental retardation to autism spectrum disorder," Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a child neurologist at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, tells Today.