In November 2018, the National Survey of Children’s Health released results from their recent study on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), highlighting updated statistics on the prevalence of autism in the United States.
Previously, in April of 2018, the CDC reported that 1 in 59 children in the US had a diagnosis of autism. The current study, however, updates this figure and estimates that roughly 1 in 40 children in the US have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
Before we jump into the research, let’s do a quick review of the characteristics of an autism spectrum disorder.
Autism is a developmental disorder that has an impact on behavior, in particular, communication, social skills, and daily living skills. Some children with autism also engage in repetitive and restrictive behavior such as repeating words or phrases, sensory sensitivities, and heightened reactions to changes in routine.
Autism is called a developmental disorder because symptoms first start to appear within the first two years of life, with many appearing before the child turns six months old.
Autism is defined on a spectrum because the presenting symptoms vary from child to child regarding severity and which skills are affected. Some children may solely struggle with social and communication skills, while others may have difficulty across all symptom areas.
There is no direct cause of autism, with most researchers concluding it is likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism is a lifelong disorder, but there are many promising treatment options including medication to manage certain symptoms and behavioral, psychological, and occupational therapies that can help both the individual and families cope throughout the lifespan.
Before the research published in the fall of 2018, the CDC highlighted data in regards to autism rates.
Before we examine the most recently published study, let’s review some of the CDC’s findings, updated in April of 2018.
In November of 2018, a new study was published by the government indicating that the prevalence rate of autism is now approximately 1 in 40 children. This is a striking increase when you compare this rate with the rates found by the CDC.
To conduct this new research, a survey method was utilized with more than 43,000 parents of children aged 3 to 17. The survey asked whether or not their child had ever been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and whether the child still struggled with an ASD.
The results showed that 2.5% of parents surveyed indicated their child had been diagnosed with an ASD and still currently have the diagnosis. This amounts to approximately 1.5 million children in the United States.
When comparing these rates to the previously published data, it should be considered that different methods of data collection were used, which could lead to varying results. For example, the CDC utilized school and medical record data collection, vs the survey method used in the current study.
The newly published research in November 2018 also analyzed autism rates in relation to gender, income level, medication, and other treatment approaches. Below is a summary of these findings:
Overall, when considering the research, it shows that autism rates are continuing to increase in the United States. It is likely that the increase in autism prevalence is due to many factors.
First, autism is increasingly becoming more well-known and discussed by the general public, health professionals, and parents, which helps improve awareness of potential symptoms. Also, there has been an emphasis on increased screening for autism spectrum disorder, as early intervention has shown to improve outcomes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that potential risk factors are discussed at every well-child visit, with official screening happening at 18 and 24 months. Finally, the diagnostic criteria have widened over the last several years, likely including more children under the ASD diagnosis than before.
Researchers suggest that each of these factors combined (and likely additional unknown factors) have all contributed to the increase in reported ASD prevalence.
This new research is also helpful in that it further highlighted children at a higher risk for autism in relation to gender, socioeconomic status, and other co-occurring diagnoses. This further demonstrates the need for early screening and intervention for children specifically in these groups.
Additionally, the survey results emphasized the difficulties many families with children with autism experience when trying to obtain proper services for their child.
Children with autism often require various types of treatment, including medication management, behavioral or occupational therapies, psychological services, and special education services. This puts them at a disadvantage in terms of trying to find a medical home and can be an additional burden on families.
The new findings help us recognize the need for greater coordination of care within the healthcare system and beyond to ensure the needs of children and families are being met.
Autism rates in the United States have increased steadily over the past 10 years.
In 2008, the rates were estimated to be 1 in 125 children and now approximately 1 in 40 children are affected.
As discussed, this is likely due to numerous reasons, including increased awareness of autism and improved diagnostic procedures.
To summarize, below are the most important takeaways from this research in regards to the impact that autism has on children and their families.
We hope this article was helpful at breaking down the most recent autism statistics and more importantly, we hope that it highlighted what this means for children and families affected by autism.
What are your thoughts on the increase in rates of Autism?
Shea Brogren, MOT, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist with over three years of experience in pediatrics and child/adolescent mental health and has also worked as an adjunct lecturer at the University of North Dakota. Shea has a special interest in program development and developed and implemented occupational therapy programming at a residential treatment center for children. She now practices in an outpatient setting. Her primary area of interest involves working with children who have experienced developmental trauma. Shea has advanced training in: SMART treatment (Sensorimotor Arousal Regulation Treatment), the Zones of Regulation, using sensory-based interventions to address trauma, infant mental health, attachment, and arousal regulation related to trauma disorders.
Kogan et al. (2018). The prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder among US Children. Journal of Pediatrics, 142(6).
Centers for Disease Control (2018). Data and Statistics: Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov
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