2020 Autism Statistics: New Recent Study Shows Increase

by Shea Brogren, MOT, OTR/L January 28, 2019 7 Comments

autism statistics article

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.

Defining 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.

CDC Autism Statistics 

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.

  • The CDC’s most recent report estimates the rate of autism as 1 in 59 children
  • ASD has been reported in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups
  • In terms of autism rates by gender, ASD is 4 times more common in boys when compared to girls
  • When analyzing autism rates by country, studies in Asia, Europe, and North American have all determined an average prevalence rate between 1 and 2%
  • Among the states included in the study, New Jersey had the highest rate of autism by state, while Alabama had the lowest. Researchers indicate this is likely due to differences in autism tracking and monitoring requirements by state 
  • Approximately 44% of children with ASD have average to above-average intellectual ability
  • Diagnosis of autism at the age of 2 can be reliable, valid, and stable throughout the child’s life. However, most children do not receive an official autism diagnosis until after the age of 4

New Research (2019 Update)

Autism Rates Graph

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.

Summary of other notable findings from new research

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:

  • Boys in the study were 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with autism when compared to girls
  • Rates of autism were higher among low-income families
  • Children born preterm were more likely to be diagnosed than those who were not
  • Children born in the US were more likely to be diagnosed than those born in another country
  • The prevalence of ASD was 47% higher for children with single mothers when compared to children in 2-parent, married households
  • 27% of children diagnosed used medication to assist with symptom management
  • 64% of children had received some type of behavioral therapy within the last 12 months
  • Children with ASD are more likely to suffer from co-occurring disorders, such as asthma, gastrointestinal problems, and seizures.
  • The cost of caring for a child with ASD (medical and non-medical services), is $17,000 per year more than caring for a child without ASD
  • When compared to children with other emotional, behavioral, or developmental disorders, children with autism were more likely to have seen a specialist, receive mental health services, and have a special education plan or early intervention services. Interestingly, they were 44% more likely to have difficulty receiving mental health treatment, 23% less likely to have a designated doctor for their needs, and 24% less likely to receive proper case management and care coordination services.

How do these results impact families of children with an ASD?

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.

Concluding Thoughts

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.

  • There is a large discrepancy in terms of services needed for these children and the coordination of care received. It is important to recognize that children with autism and their families have broad needs that will likely occur across the lifespan and care coordination is essential in ensuring these services are meeting the needs and helping ease the burdens these children and families face.
  • Standard screening procedures for all children is imperative to help identify children with an ASD. In addition, early screening often means children are diagnosed at a younger age. Early intervention services have been shown to be effective at improving behavioral outcomes for children with an ASD.
  • There are a variety of treatment and medication options available for children with an ASD, however, each child will have their own unique needs and certain therapies that are helpful. Health professionals should be aware of this and open to helping families explore their treatment options.  
  • Families of children with an ASD often experience financial burdens due to their child’s additional healthcare and health maintenance needs. This is important to note so that stakeholders and healthcare professionals can advocate for these needs and help them access additional financial support whenever possible.

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? 


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

Shea Brogren, MOT, OTR/L
Shea Brogren, MOT, OTR/L

7 Responses

Catherine Donovan
Catherine Donovan

July 12, 2020

Researchers have pointed to “autoantibodies”—immune proteins that react with the body’s own cells, tissues or organs instead of fighting external pathogens—as key indicators of an immune system that has lost its ability to differentiate between “self” and “non-self.” Autoantibodies are the hallmark of autoimmune disease and, in autism, they tend to react with proteins expressed in the brain. In a surprisingly candid systematic review of the autoantibody literature just published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, authors from Harvard and other American universities cite long-standing evidence that viral vaccines—and explicitly the MMR—are one of the culprits capable of knocking the immune system off its game.

*July 9th, 2020 Children’s Health Defense


August 02, 2019

Hi Samer,
I am a proud Mommy of an 4yo aspie. I am a Mexican and I decided to talk to him in english since he was born. HE listed to spanish from School and Granparents. He struggled a little bit between 2-3 years old but now he catched up and he is fluent in both languages!!


May 28, 2019

I am working on a study about teaching autistic children a foreign language. Is it possible to teach him/her a foreign language ? and does a foreign language encourage them to express their attitudes and feelings more than using their native language?

itidal Abu Agha
itidal Abu Agha

May 21, 2019

Very interesting article. I advocate for individuals with autism in Jordan and find it so sad to see the increase in number and the lack of services. Parents and children are both struggling and fighting for proper diagnosis, inclusion, training and financial help from the policy makers.


May 07, 2019

What about vaccines that kids get since they were born?
Why they give vaccines to newborns without immunity system?
In USA most high rate of autism, and in other developing countries.
Why not in India, or poor African countries, where they don’t have vaccines?
Ask yourself!


March 19, 2019

Hey Wanda,

Thanks for your thoughts on the article. There is definitely a lot we don’t know. All we can do is keep researching and trying to find ways to help improve the lives of those with autism.

All the best,
Harkla Happiness Ninja

Wanda  Meeks
Wanda Meeks

February 04, 2019

I think it’s ridiculous to think that it’s because we’re screening our children more it is something environmental we have to figure this out.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Special Needs

What Are Primitive Reflexes?
What Are Primitive Reflexes?

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L December 14, 2023 1 Comment

We are all born with primitive reflexes and they should naturally integrate to promote higher level learning and motor development. Read our article to learn about the most common primitive reflexes addressed by Occupational Therapists and simple ideas that you can use to help your child.
Read More
Tips and Tricks for Your Sensory Avoiding Child
Tips and Tricks for Your Sensory Avoiding Child

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L June 29, 2023 1 Comment

What is a sensory avoider? What are the signs and what exactly do they mean? How can you help your child meet their sensory needs so they can feel successful throughout their day? This article answers these questions, and more!
Read More
Sensory Seeking
Tips and Tricks for Your Sensory Seeking Child

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L May 11, 2023 3 Comments

What is a sensory seeker? What are the signs and what exactly do they mean? How can you help your child meet their sensory seeking needs so they can feel successful throughout their day?  This article answers these questions, and more!
Read More
Liquid error (layout/theme line 844): Could not find asset snippets/oneclickupsellapp-theme.liquid