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The Prevalence of Autism: New Statistics

June 19, 2018

The Prevalence of Autism: New Statistics

According to the latest data available, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children has increased 15%, from 1 in 68 to 1 in 59, according to a new report from the Center for Disease Control released April 2018.

As explained in the CDC report, the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network is an active surveillance system that provides estimates of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among children aged 8 years whose parents or guardians reside within 11 ADDM sites in the United States (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin). The CDC has been tracking the prevalence rates of autism spectrum disorder since 1998.

Developmental Evaluations Are Crucial

While rates of autism may truly be rising, it is also possible that parents and caregivers are simply becoming more attuned to the symptoms and behaviors children exhibit, thereby discovering more cases of autism. The rates may not be rising so much as more children are being identified thanks to better knowledge and recognition of the signs that a child is on the autism spectrum disorder. However, one of the most serious revelations from the CDC report was the discovery that children are still not receiving comprehensive developmental evaluations before age 3, especially in black and Hispanic populations (which may account for the disparity in prevalence between white children and children of color). Of the children who were diagnosed with ASD, 85% had developmental concerns by age 3 but only 43% had received comprehensive developmental evaluations by age 3. Of deepest concern, 39% of children did not receive a comprehensive developmental evaluation until after age 4. Because autism spectrum disorder can be diagnosed with confidence by age 2, and early intervention proving key to improving the quality of life for these children as well as their ability to function, early, comprehensive developmental evaluations are crucial. A medical diagnosis is often required in order for insurance to cover services, but for 30% of children, that diagnosis did not happen until after age 8.

Why Does the CDC Measure the Prevalence of Autism?

The CDC is charged with measuring the prevalence of autism. They do this to measure the progress made toward achieving public health goals; these public health goals include increasing the number of children with ASD receiving a first evaluation by 36 months of age and the number of children enrolled in special services by 48 months of age. The CDC actively promotes early identification efforts, encouraging parents, caregivers, and physicians to know and recognize early signs of autism and to promote early intervention. This research is used by other scientists throughout the country, by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, who develops an annual strategic plan for ASD research, and to establish the need for community supports.

Key Findings from the CDC Report

You can download the full report from the CDC here (PDF).

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