News: Autism Affects 1 in 59 Children, CDC Says

News: Autism Affects 1 in 59 Children, CDC Says

A new report shows autism diagnoses continue to climb, in part because we're getting better at recognizing the disorder.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that the United States rate of autism diagnoses continues to climb. In 2016, the CDC's tracking system estimated that 1 in 68 children in 11 analyzed communities had the disorder (based on data from 2012). Now, looking at 2014 figures, the CDC estimates that number is 1 in 59, or approximately 1.7 percent of kids. That's a 15 percent surge in two years, and a 150 percent jump since 2000. New Jersey again has the highest diagnosis rates, with 3 percent of children statewide thought to have the condition.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term for a range of issues that may affect cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. It has no single cause, though there are multiple known risk factors, and signs typically surface in early childhood. ASD is lifelong, though intervention can greatly improve a child's skills—especially if treatment is started early.

A deeper dive
To reach their conclusions, the CDC looked at data from their Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, which tracks more than 300,000 8-year-olds in 11 communities across different states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. The CDC notes in their report these communities are not representative of the entire US and findings can't be generalized to all 8-year-olds.

Part of the reason for the rise in diagnoses may be an actual increase in the prevalence of autism. However, the CDC attributes a large part of the higher rate to this: we're getting better at recognizing the disorder.

For instance, researchers found that ASD is being spotted in black and Hispanic children more often than it was previously, likely due to increased awareness in minority communities. Girls, too, are being identified with autism more frequently, as experts are better able to pick out their early signs, which can differ from those seen in boys. White males still have highest rates of ASD, but the new data indicates other groups may be slowly closing the gap.

Other reasons for the rate surge may be changes to the criteria for autism over the years—which may encompass a wider range of children—and a greater availability of good early interventional services, which may make parents more likely to jump on them.

These factors may explain the differential among states, as well. New Jersey, which has the highest rate of autism diagnoses in the nation, is a relatively wealthy state with several big cities and substantial access to autism resources. Arkansas, where the rate is around 1.3 percent, is more rural and has comparatively fewer resources.

Importance of early detection
Another important takeaway from the CDC study: children are still being diagnosed for ASD at 4 years old, on average. Since early intervention is crucial to improving outcomes—and signs of the disorder can surface before a child turns 1—this represents room for improvement.

While most children are regularly screened for autism by their pediatrician, if you believe your child may be showing signs, it's important to speak up. Your doctor can screen at any time and refer additional services. Every US state provides some early intervention, as well; reach out to your state's Part C coordinator for additional information.

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