Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The prevalence puzzle: Autism counts

Shifting diagnoses and heightened awareness explain only part of the apparent rise in autism. Scientists are struggling to explain the rest.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Kanner, L. Nerv. Child 2, 217-250 (1943).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Lotter, V. Soc. Psychiatry 1, 124-137 (1966).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Newschaffer, C. J., Falb, M. D. & Gurney, J. D. Pediatrics 115, e277-e282 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. ADDMN Surveillance, Year 2006, Principal Investigators MMWR Surveill. Summ. 58, 1-20 (2009).

  5. Rutter, M. Acta Paediatr. 94, 2-15 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Kim, Y. S. et al. Am. J. Psychiatry 168, 904-912 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Grinker, R. R. Korea and its Futures: Unification and the Unfinished War (St Martins Press, 1998).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Brugha, T. S. et al. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 68, 459-465 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Gillberg, C. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 24, 377-403 (1983).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Kadesjö, B., Gillberg, C. & Hagberg, B. J. Autism Dev. Disord. 29, 327-331 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. King, M. & Bearman, P. Int. J. Epidemiol. 38, 1224-1234 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. King, M. D. & Bearman, P. S. Am. Sociol. Rev. 76, 320-346 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. King, M. D., Fountain, C., Dakhlallah, D. & Bearman, P. S. Am. J. Public Health 99, 1673-1679 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Additional information

Karen Weintraub is a freelance writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Related links

Related links

Related links in Nature Research

Autism special

Related external links

CDC Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Weintraub, K. The prevalence puzzle: Autism counts. Nature 479, 22–24 (2011).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing