US Autism Rate Steady at 1 in 68: CDC

Megan Brooks

March 31, 2016

Rates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have not changed in the United States, although it is too soon to say whether autism prevalence is stabilizing, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday.

According to the latest estimates, 1 in 68 children aged 8 years (14.6 per 1000) have been diagnosed as having ASD, a figure that matches estimates reported in 2014. The data in the latest report are for 2012, whereas the data in the previous 2014 report were from 2010.

The latest estimates continue to show significantly higher prevalence of ASD among boys than girls (23.6 vs 5.3 per 1000) and among non-Hispanic white children (15.5 per 1000) compared with non-Hispanic black children (13.2 per 1000) and Hispanic children (10.1 per 1000).

Black and Hispanic children continue to be less likely to be diagnosed as having ASD than their white peers. Black and Hispanic children also receive developmental evaluations later than white children, the CDC said.

"Targeted strategies are needed to identify and address barriers in order to lower the age at which black and Hispanic children are evaluated, diagnosed, and connected to the services they need," Daisy Christensen, PhD, said in a news release. Dr Christensen is a CDC epidemiologist and is the lead author of the report, which is based on data from the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

The ADDM Network is a tracking system that provides estimates of the prevalence and characteristics of ASD among 8-year-old children in 11 communities in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin.

The new estimates were published in the April 1 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

"Although the average ASD prevalence of the 11 ADDM Network sites combined did not change between 2010 and 2012, ASD prevalence still varied widely between the 11 communities. Differences were seen by geographic region and between sites with different access to data resources," the CDC said.

The agency will continue to track ASD prevalence to better understand changes over time.

"What we know for sure is that there are many children living with autism who need services and support, now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood," Stuart K. Shapira, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in the news release.

Overall, only 43% of children identified as having ASD receive developmental evaluations by age 3 years, the CDC said, suggesting that "many children may not be getting identified as early as they could be." Progress is needed to meet the Healthy People 2020 goal of increasing to 47% the proportion of children with ASD who are first evaluated by 3 years of age, the agency said.

"The most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with ASD is early identification," added Dr Shapira. "Parents, childcare professionals, and doctors can monitor each child's development and act right away on any developmental concerns. It's important to remember that children can be connected to services even before an official diagnosis is made."

The CDC's Learn the Signs. Act Early program provides parents, childcare professionals, and healthcare providers free resources, in English and Spanish, for monitoring children's development. The program offers parent-friendly, research-based milestone checklists for children as young as 2 months of age. The program also offers information about what to do if there is a developmental concern and whom to contact for assistance.

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016:65;1-28. Full text

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