1 in 88 children in the US are on the autism spectrum according to a new report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); the CDC report is available in PDF format. The previous figure from 2006 was in 1 in 110: Rates for children with an autism spectrum disorder have increased 23 percent from 2006 to 2008 and 78 percent as compared to a decade ago.
The prevalence rate differs in different parts of the US. While the overall estimated ASD prevalence rate is 11.3 per 1,000 (one in 88) children aged 8 years, the rate is much lower in Alabama (4.8 per 1,000). Utah has the highest estimated autism prevalence (21.2 per 1,000) and New Jersey where I live the second highest (20.5 per 1,000).
Gender, Race and Ethnicity and ASD Prevalence
Autism is more prevalent in boys than in girls and that CDC’s new report reflects this. Approximately one in 54 boys (18.4 per 1,000) and one in 252 girls (4 per 1,000) in the areas surveyed by the CDC were found to have an ASD diagnosis.
In addition, ASD prevalence estimates also vary widely by sex and by racial/ethnic group. The estimated prevalence among non-Hispanic white children (12.0 per 1,000) is much larger than among non-Hispanic black children (10.2 per 1,000) and Hispanic children (7.9 per 1,000). The ASD prevalence rate is the same for non-Hispanic white children, non-Hispanic black children, and Hispanic children only in New Jersey. Overall, the largest increases in ASD diagnoses are among black and Hispanic children.
Estimates for the ASD rate among Asian/Pacific Islander children ranged greatly, from 2.2 to 19.0 per 1,000; the CDC notes that “wide confidence intervals suggest that these findings should be interpreted with caution.”
Why the Increase?
The reason for such a significant increase in ASD prevalence remains uncertain. While many may be first inclined to think that there be some thing, such as an environmental agent, it is also necessary to keep in mind how much the DSM criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis have changed (and are still changing) and how much more public understanding there is about autism today than thirteen years ago when my teenage son was diagnosed with autism. Educators, doctors and parents are much more able to detect what might be symptoms of autism in younger children, though the CDC report notes that the average age of diagnosis is 4 or 5 years old: More can be done to identify young children on the autism spectrum.
I’ve Seen My Son Go From Having a “Rare Disease” to a “Commonly Prevalent” One
As a mother who was told back in 1999 that her toddler had an “incredibly rare disease,” the increased public understanding has made life better for my son Charlie and our family.
Photo of the author's son in 1999, around the time when he was diagnosed with autism.
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