Autism Prevalence Increases in U.S., 1 in 59 Children Diagnosed With Autism Spectrum Disorder

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A new report from the Centers of Disease Control shows that 1 out of 59 children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism prevalence increased to 1.7% since the last report, in 2016. This new estimate is a 15% increase from two years ago, and a staggering 150% increase from 2000. However, the data for this newest study was collected from 11 communities across the country. Experts say it is not representative of a national trend.

Autism prevalence increased to 1.7% since 2016, according to the study of 11 communities. 1 in 59 kids is on the autism spectrum, up from 1 in 68 kids.

This new estimated rate of autism came from data collected from 11 communities across the U.S. While it is not indicative of a national trend, the diversity in these communities gave researchers some important insight. Daisy Christensen is the co-author of the new report and surveillance team lead in the developmental disabilities branch of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. She says, “There were more than 300,000 children living in these communities — about 8% of all 8-year old children living in the US. And these are diverse communities so that we can look at autism prevalence and characteristics in a number of different groups defined by race/ethnicity or by socioeconomic status.”

The definition of autism has changed over the last fee decades. Increases in the prevalence rate can be attributed to broader diagnostic criteria.

Christensen says, “Over the ’80s and ’90s, the diagnostic criteria expanded to include more children, so I think that’s definitely a possibility for the increase that we’ve seen”. However, the data can’t tell us exactly why the autism prevalence increased. Diagnostic criteria and access to more services are an important piece of the puzzle. But, Christensen says, parents are the first step in identifying a possible issue.

“Parents know their child best, ” says Christensen. Tracking milestones and relaying concerns to health care professionals can mean your child gets the services they need. The sooner, the better.

(Image: iStock / MariaDubova)