NEW YORK, April 26, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today 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:
-One in 59 children had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8 in 2014, a 15 percent increase over 2012, when the estimate was 1 in 68. This is a meaningful increase that is not fully explained by better screening, diagnosis and record-keeping.
-The gender gap in autism diagnosis has decreased. While boys were 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls (1 in 37 versus 1 in 151) in 2014, the gender gap was narrower than in 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.
-White children were still more likely to be diagnosed with autism than were minority children. However, the ethnic gap narrowed since 2012, 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 overall decrease in the age of diagnosis. 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 throughout 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 differences in the CDC's access to the school and medical records across the 11 monitoring sites. It also suggests that the new national prevalence estimate reflects a persistent undercount of autism's true prevalence among the nation's children.
"It's encouraging to see evidence of improved identification of autism in girls and minority groups," said Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas Frazier. "We must continue to narrow this gap while greatly speeding up the time from first concerns about a child's development to screening, diagnosis and intervention. If most children aren't being diagnosed until after age 4, we're losing months if not years of intervention that can deliver benefits throughout their lives."
Other key findings:
-The new report found that new diagnostic criteria for autism adopted in 2013 (DSM-5) made only a slight difference in prevalence estimates. Autism prevalence was slightly higher (by 4 percent) based on the older (DSM-IV) definition of autism compared to DSM-5. Future prevalence reports will be based fully on the DSM-5 criteria for autism and provide a better measure of the change's impact.
-The nation still lacks any reliable estimate of autism's prevalence among adults. As autism is a lifelong condition for most people, this represents a gap in awareness of their needs – particularly in employment, housing and social inclusion. Each year, an estimated 50,000 teens with autism age out of school-based services.
About Autism Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, and each person with autism can have unique strengths and challenges. A combination of genetic and environmental factors influence autism, and autism is often accompanied by medical issues such as GI disorders, seizures and sleep disturbances.
About Autism Speaks Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We do this through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions. Go to AutismSpeaks.org to learn more, donate or join a fundraising walk.