Autism spectrum disorder affects an estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States, with no change from the previously reported year, according to a recent MMWR Surveillance Summary report that also said it is too soon to determine if ASD prevalence is stabilizing.
“What we know for sure is that there are many children living with autism who need services and support, now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” Stuart K. Shapira, MD, PhD, chief medical officer of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC, said in a news release. “The most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with ASD is early identification. Parents, child care professionals and doctors can monitor each child’s development and act right away on any developmental concerns.”
The investigators studied data from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which tracked the prevalence and characteristics of ASD among children aged 8 years in 11 states. Children were defined as having ASD if one or more professional evaluations recorded behaviors that were consistent with current diagnostic standards. Data included in the current report are from 2012; the previous report, released in 2014, used data from 2010.
The analysis included 38,038 children, of which 9,629 met criteria for further clinical examination. Fifty-three percent of these children met the classification for ASD. Study investigators stated that these figures were similar to the data drawn from 2010.
The investigators said that ASD prevalence varied widely between the 11 states, ranging from 8.2 cases per 1,000 children in areas around Maryland to 24.6 cases per 1,000 children in areas around New Jersey.
Other findings included differences in access to data resources by geographic region and differences in support between races and ethnicities. The researchers wrote that black and Hispanic children were less likely to be diagnosed with ASD, as well as less likely to receive early evaluations. Barriers such as reduced access to health care due to low income and stigma related to the disorder may be reducing ASD identification among these children, the researchers wrote.
“Targeted strategies are needed to identify and address barriers in order to lower the age at which black and Hispanic children are evaluated, diagnosed, and connected to the services they need,” researcher Deborah L. Christensen, PhD, epidemiologist at the CDC, said in the release.
Christensen and colleagues also determined that only 43% of children diagnosed with ASD received developmental evaluations by age 3 years, suggesting that children with ASD may not be getting identified as early as possible.
“It’s important to remember that children can be connected to services even before an official diagnosis is made,” Shapira said in the release. – by David Costill
Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.