New Data From the CDC Suggests That 1 in 44 U.S. Children Has Autism

The rate of autism diagnosis in the United States continues to climb. Thanks in part to better awareness and changes in diagnostic criteria, the estimated number of children in the U.S. diagnosed with autism rose from 1 in 150 in the early 2000s to 1 in 54 in 2016. Now, new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that the prevalence is even higher.

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The CDC recently released data showing that an estimated 1 in 44 8-year-olds in the United States has been diagnosed with autism. The figures were gathered from 11 communities in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

The data also show that among affected kids who had turned 4 in 2018 within these communities, the rate of autism diagnosis or special education classification by that age was 50% higher than it had been for the children who had turned 4 in 2014. Researchers say this means more children are benefitting from early intervention.

Dr. Karen Remley, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, says, “The substantial progress in early identification is good news because the earlier that children are identified with autism, the sooner they can be connected to services and support. Accessing these services at younger ages can help children do better in school and have a better quality of life.”

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There were stark variations in the data between racial groups and geographic regions. For example, in several of these 11 communities, fewer Hispanic children had been diagnosed than Black or white children. Black children were also more likely to be identified with intellectual disability than white or Hispanic children. The CDC says these differences could be attributable to diagnostic and support access.

That issue could also play in a role in the broad range of figures between states. In ADDM communities in California, 1 in 26 kids had been diagnosed, compared with 1 in 60 in Missouri.

As for how to make progress against these disparities, the report says, “Research into the factors associated with the variability in ASD prevalence across communities and the higher proportion of intellectual disability among Black children with ASD is warranted. Progress is still needed in certain important areas, including the lower identification of ASD among Hispanic children versus other demographic groups. Evidence exists of persistent disparities for various subgroups. These findings emphasize the need for sustained efforts to reduce geographic, racial, and ethnic disparities in identification of and support for persons with ASD.”

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To help with earlier diagnosis, the CDC encourages parents to track their child’s development using ‘Act Early’ resources found at its website.

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