A study released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in every 88 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This marks a 23 percent increase since the agency’s last report in 2009.
Based on 2008 surveillance in 14 different communities, the report included these findings:
Rates of diagnosis have risen. Nationwide 11.3 of every 1,000 8-year-old children in the current sample have been identified as having ASD. In the 2009 report, based on data gathered in 2006 the rate was just 9 of every 1,000. The rate has increased 78 percent since data were gathered in 2002, when there were 6.6 ASD diagnoses per 1,000 children. ASD rates in the current report ranged from one in 210 children in Alabama to one in 47 in Utah. The greatest increases in diagnosis were among Hispanic and black children.
Boys are diagnosed more often. Overall, one in every 54 boys in the current sample were diagnosed with ASDs, making the disorder five times more prevalent among boys than among girls.
Children are being diagnosed earlier. Early diagnosis is considered essential, as those diagnosed earliest respond best to treatment. Among children with ASD born in 2000, 18 percent were diagnosed by age 3, compared with just 12 percent of those born in 1994. Still, 40 percent of children in the current study weren’t diagnosed until after age 4.
Experts agree that some of the increase in ASD rates is due to changes in the way children are identified, diagnosed, and treated – though how much of the upsurge this accounts for remains unclear. “One thing the data tells us with certainty – there are more children and families that need help,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement as the report was released. “We must continue to track autism spectrum disorders because this is the information communities need to guide improvements in services to help children.”
Advice to parents, meanwhile, remains the same.
• Act quickly if you are concerned about your child’s development.
• Talk with your child’s doctor about your concerns.
• Call your local early-intervention program or school district for an assessment.
• Remember that you do not need a diagnosis in order to access services for your child.