Autism may be more common than previously thought, burdening as many as one in 88 children, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says.

Approximately one in 54 boys and one in 252 girls were identified as having autism spectrum disorders or ASDs. Autism spectrum disorders are characterized as developmental disabilities that include social interaction issues, communication impairment and "restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour," according to the report. 

Released Thursday, the research suggests better diagnosis of the disorder and wider screening has led to the higher estimated prevalence. Health officials also note that large increases in cases of ASDs in Hispanic and black U.S. children have also contributed to the higher figures. The figures are based on 2008 statistics. 

The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the latest in a series of studies that have been steadily increasing the U.S. government's estimates for autism.

This latest estimate means autism is nearly twice as common as officials said it was only five years ago, and likely affects roughly a million U.S. children and teens. According to the report, ASD prevalence was eight per 1,000 children aged 8 years in 2004, and nine per 1,000 children in 2006. For 2008, the estimate is 11.3 in 1,000, or one in 88 kids.

The authors of the study caution that "given substantial increases in ASD prevalence estimates over a relatively short period, overall and within various subgroups of the population, continued monitoring is needed to quantify and understand these patterns."

Researchers are collecting information on children aged 8 in 2010 and are monitoring ASDs among children aged 4 years as well.

The Associated Press