No one knows how prevalent an Asperger profile is. Some professionals currently surmise that at least one in every 250 people has an Asperger profile. The statistics continue to shift. In the late 1990’s, the National Institute of Child Health and Mental Development estimated that 1 in 500 people had some form of AS. As the number of individuals touched by the Asperger constellation of traits continued to be recognized, the numbers rose. Because Asperger diagnosis is now subsumed under the broader umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the DSM 5, an accurate estimate is further obscured. According to the CDC’s current data, about 1 in 44 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, there are few studies available that determine what percentage of these individuals would have previously fallen under the designation of Asperger Syndrome.
Why do people say that there is an epidemic increase in Asperger cases and other forms of autism? This question is complex. Although Asperger Syndrome was first written about in the 1940’s, it did not gain widespread recognition until the mid 1990’s. Since then, diagnoses of AS have been on the rise. Not enough data exists to reliably determine whether the incidence of AS itself has increased, or diagnoses of Asperger’s Syndrome was given to people who were formerly left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with psychiatric, behavioral, or emotional problems. This topic is very complex and there is much work to do in the field. One thing we know for sure at AANE, is that given the number of recently diagnosed or undiagnosed adults we see in our community, it is clear that a significant number of people from past generations with Asperger profiles have slipped through any Asperger/autism diagnostic nets.
Dr. Tony Attwood estimates that as many as 50% of people with AS remain undiagnosed, in part because the Asperger traits have only recently been publicly recognized on a broad scale. Some people with Asperger profiles continue to be misdiagnosed, while others “fly under the radar.” That is, they have traits that are mild enough so that they manage to adapt and function sufficiently well to be considered merely eccentric or quirky. Many Asperger traits blur seamlessly into more typical profiles.
Moreover, it is possible that more females than males are going unrecognized with Asperger profiles. The ratio males to females is often cited by professionals as four males to every one female; citations can range from 2:1 to 7:1. Nobody actually knows what the actual number is. After twenty years of clinical observation, AANE staff estimate that the ratio of males to females with Asperger profiles is closer to 2:1.