On March 27, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the latest findings from their Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Looking at children in 11 states who were 8 years old in 2010 and had a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), they found that 1 in 68 of these children were diagnosed with an ASD. This is a significant increase from the 1 in 88 the CDC announced in 2012, using the same methods of measurement. The question on everyone’s mind is “What does this mean? Are more and more children developing ASD each year?” We can’t be certain of the causes of the continued increase in ASD diagnoses found by the CDC since the ADDM Network was started. However, we know that it means there are more children who can benefit from early identification and appropriate intervention.
The full CDC report provides some other important pieces of information:
- Almost half of the children diagnosed with an ASD in this study had average or above average intellectual ability (IQ above 85), and slightly under 1/3 of those with an ASD also had an intellectual disability.
- The age of first comprehensive evaluation for ASD ranged from 33 months to 45 months, with an average age of 48 months.
- 89% of the children diagnosed with an ASD had developmental concerns documented by age 36 months, yet only about half of those children received a comprehensive evaluation by 36 months. It is possible for ASD to be diagnosed by age 2 by trained and experienced professionals in many cases, so early and regular screening and referral for diagnosis as needed is important.
- The prevalence of ASD among boys (1 in 42) continues to be significantly higher than girls (1 in 189).
Will these rates continue to increase? Most likely they will. The rate of ASD has increased with each new CDC study for the past eight years, with nothing to suggest this will change in the near future. The CDC study, while well designed and large scale, has a number of limitations (described in their full report). In 2011, an exhaustive population study was published online by the American Journal of Psychiatry (an NPR report of this study can be found here). This study, conducted by a team of researchers including Dr. Bennett Leventhal, a TAP founder and consultant, studied 55,000 children in a South Korean village and found that 1 in 38 children between the ages of 7 and 12 had an ASD. Most noteworthy is the fact that two-thirds of the children identified as having an ASD had been previously unrecognized and untreated. These children most likely did not have significant behavior issues in school and were not failing. It is children of this description that are most likely to be unrecognized and untreated in the United States as well.
TAP provides training and autism awareness programs, resources and consultation in addition to ASD screening, diagnostic evaluations and treatment through a network of seventeen partners operating in over twenty locations across Illinois. For more information or assistance, contact your local TAP Partner or the TAP Central Office.