Around 1 in 44 8-year-old children in the US were identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to the latest big analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As part of the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, researchers studied 220,881 8-year-olds across 11 states and found 1.9 percent were diagnosed with ASD in 2018.
This number is up by 1.9 percent since 2016 and marks the highest level since the CDC began tracking the condition in 2000. This does not necessarily mean that the true number of children with the condition has increased, but most likely reflects the improvements in diagnosis and identification of ASD in certain areas, according to the CDC.
“The substantial progress in early identification is good news because the earlier that children are identified with autism, the sooner they can be connected to services and support,” Karen Remley, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a statement. “Accessing these services at younger ages can help children do better in school and have a better quality of life.”
ASD is a group of developmental disorders that can cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. It’s typically defined by difficulty in social interactions and communication with others, as well as repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. The band of conditions is considered a “spectrum” because it refers to the broad array of symptoms with varying severity. Some children with ASD have learning difficulties and have signs of lower than normal intelligence. On the other hand, other children within the spectrum have normal to high intelligence.
There is no single cause of ASD, with research suggesting that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. The link between ASD and vaccines, however, has been wholeheartedly, scientifically, repeatedly debunked time and time again.
Digging deeper into the new report, there are some notable trends. Eight-year-old boys were four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls. Beyond this report, it’s still debated whether ASD actually affects girls less often or if girls are underdiagnosed because the criteria for diagnosis are largely built around how ASD manifests in boys because it was once thought it only affected males.
In many of the studied communities, fewer Hispanic children were identified with ASD than Black or white children. Furthermore, Black children with ASD were more likely to experience intellectual disability in comparison to white or Hispanic children.
There were also geographical differences. For instance, the percentage of kids who were identified with ASD ranged from a low of 1.7 percent in Missouri to a high of 3.9 percent in California. Once again, these variations could be due to more accurate diagnoses, not more actual cases, since certain communities are armed with healthcare services that are better equipped to identify cases of ASD. In many instances, it might even just be a case of meeting the criteria needed by insurances to receive healthcare.
“Currently, research does not show that living in certain communities puts children at greater risk for developing ASD. These differences in the percentage of children identified with ASD across areas may be due to differences in availability of services for early detection and evaluation, diagnostic practices, and other differences in documentation of ASD symptoms,” the researchers explain.
“For example, there may be differences in whether children have insurance or meet the eligibility criteria for access to early intervention services.”
Greater awareness and more informed diagnoses are leading children to be being diagnosed earlier, which is good, but as the authors point out, large gaps still remain.