The earlier government estimate of one in 88 children comes from a study that many consider more rigorous. It looks at medical and school records instead of relying on parents to answer questions. But some argue the new numbers may actually be more accurate.
Fresno mom Jody Howard hopes a new report will shed some light on the importance of an early diagnosis for children with autism.
"It's kind of heartbreaking in a way," said Howard. "I remember trying to get my son diagnosed and finding it difficult to get a correct diagnosis."
It took her five doctors and two and a half years, to determine her son Brenn had mild to moderate symptoms, and suspects other children are falling through the cracks.
"It's hard to say how severe someone may or may not be, because they're all capable of learning," said Howard. "Autistic individuals are so intelligent, it's just a matter of us non-autistic people knowing how to reach their minds."
For decades autism meant kids with severe language, intellectual and social impairments, but the definition has gradually expanding to include milder conditions.
The new estimate released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would mean at least one million children have autism.
An important number government officials use to determine how to spend limited public health funds, but also a controversial one, because it comes from a national survey of more than 95-thousand parents in the last two years.
"It's really more of a political occurrence rather than a true medical occurrence," said Dr. Amanda Adams. "This particular survey wad one in a way where they did school age children only, with autistic-like symptoms they might have been picked up even without a formal medical diagnosis."
Still CDC officials believe it provides a valid snapshot of how many families are affected by autism. And without a proper diagnosis parents like Jody Howard say it's difficult to get access to services.
"They seemed reluctant to place a label of autism on him," said Howard. "And as parent I didn't care what the label was, I just wanted an answer so that we could start looking for help."
Although Dr. Amanda Adams doesn't completely agree with the report, she says it's important to realize we have one in 50 children in our country who are showing symptoms on the autism spectrum. She believes there needs to be more focus on programs that play to a variety of children, rather than specific categories.