Ellis Henican Newsday columnist Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a political analyst at the Fox News Channel and

Nothing glazes the eyes like a fresh load of statistics. But this one is just too startling to glance away from: One in 68 American children now show up on the autism spectrum. That's a 30 percent jump from two years ago. The number was 1 in 88 in those relative carefree days.

And these dire numbers don't arrive from some hysterical activist group or a medical-industrial complex eager to profit from each fresh diagnosis. The stats were gathered by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who studied 8-year-olds in 11 states and found a huge disparity in the case reports: One in 175 on the spectrum in Alabama, 1 in 45 in New Jersey. The researchers didn't study Long Island this time. But if they had, we'd have surely been at Jersey levels or beyond, as we always are.

So why this rise?

Oh, there are lots of theories -- but hardly any general agreement, not even on the central question of whether the incidence of autism, Asperger's syndrome or other spectrum disorders is really on the rise. Maybe just the reporting is. And then there's the even thornier question of what lies behind the neural development disorder.

Something environmental? Something prenatal? Concerns about childhood inoculations may finally be fading as scare data from one British researcher seems lately to have been debunked.

But whatever the cause, too many parents are facing life-altering crises when their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds don't start speaking. And the power of early detection, though crucially important, often isn't enough.

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Have the numbers cut through your glaze?

BROAD SPECTRUM

1. Einstein

@Newsday

2. Mozart

3. Daryl Hannah

4. The best techies in Silicon Valley

5. A kid in every other class

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