CDC estimate of autism prevalence increases to 15%. Now 1 in 59 children
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its biennial update of autism's estimated prevalence among the nation's children, based on an analysis of 2014 medical and/or school records of 8-year-olds from 11 monitoring sites across the United States. The report demonstrates that while progress has been made on some fronts, there is still critical work to do.
"The findings urgently warrant a significant increase in life-enhancing research and access to high-quality services for people with autism across the spectrum and throughout their life span," says Autism Speaks President and Chief Executive Officer Angela Geiger.
Autism Speaks calls on legislators, public health agencies and the National Institutes of Health to advance research to help better understand the increased prevalence and the complex medical needs that often accompany autism. In doing so, the organization urges policy makers to follow the U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee's recommendation to double the autism research budget. Autism Speaks also urges government leaders to advance policies that better provide individualized support and services in areas such as education, transition to adulthood, residential options and employment.
Key findings include:
• More children have been diagnosed with autism. 1 in 59 children had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8 in 2014, a 15% increase over 2012.
• The gender gap has narrowed slightly. While boys were 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls (1 in 37 versus 1 in 151) in 2014, this gender gap narrowed compared to 2012, when boys were 4.5 times more frequently diagnosed than girls. This appears to reflect improved identification of autism in girls many of whom do not fit the stereotypical picture of autism seen in boys.
• The ethnic gap for early diagnosis has narrowed but not nearly enough. While autism was still more likely to be diagnosed in white children than minority children, the ethnic gap is narrowing, particularly between black and white children. This appears to reflect increased awareness and screening in minority communities. However, the diagnosis of autism among Hispanic children still lagged significantly behind that of non-Hispanic children.
• Disappointingly, the report found no decrease in the age when autism is typically diagnosed. In 2014, most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2. Earlier diagnosis is crucial because early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the life span.
• Significant differences remain in the frequency of autism diagnosis between the CDC's monitoring sites. These ranged from a low of 1 in 77 children in Arkansas to a high of 1 in 34 in New Jersey. This likely reflects state and regional differences in children's access to autism screening as well as differences in the CDC's access to the school and medical records that its researchers use to estimate prevalence. As such, the new national numbers almost certainly reflect a persistent undercount of autism's true prevalence among the nation's children.