December 05, 2018
1 min read

Autism prevalent among US kids; nearly 30% receive no treatment

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Approximately 3% of American children have received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in their lifetime, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers noted that although effective behavioral and medication-based treatments are available for children with the condition, almost 30% of children with current diagnoses are not being treated.

"Previous studies suggest that 46% to 56% of children with ASD had taken at least one psychotropic medication in the past year,” Guifeng Xu, MD, from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and colleagues wrote. “Presently, little is known about the status of behavioral and pharmacological treatment patterns of ASD in children in the United States."

Xu and colleagues examined data collected from a 2016 nationwide, population-based, cross-sectional survey of 43,032 children aged between 3 and 17 years.

The prevalence of ASD among American children remained “relatively high,” they said, with the weighted prevalence of children who were ever diagnosed estimated to be 2.79%. This number was comparable to a 2016 estimate (2.76%), which was derived from nationally representative data that were published earlier this year by Xu and colleagues.

In their most recent study, Xu and colleagues found that 2.5% of children had a current ASD diagnosis. The lowest prevalence of children ever diagnosed with ASD was in Texas (1.54%), and the highest prevalence was in Florida (4.88%).

Only 70.5% of children with a current diagnosis of ASD received treatment. Of these children, almost half received only behavioral treatment (43.3%) and 6.9% were prescribed only medications. The use of both treatment methods was uncommon, with only 20.3% of all children with a current diagnosis receiving medication and behavioral interventions together.

“Previous research suggests that evidence-based interventions, especially if initiated early, can alleviate problem behaviors and promote improvement in core symptoms common to children with ASD,” the researchers wrote. “Although there is currently no cure for ASD, symptoms can decrease over time with appropriate treatment and, in a small minority, be minimized to the extent that they lose their diagnosis of ASD. The establishment of appropriate treatment strategies in the early years could minimize or even avoid subsequent behavioral problems.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.