One in 59 US children has autism, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new estimate is a prevalence rate of 1.7%, up from one in every 68 children (1.5%) in the 2016 report, which was based on data from 2010. The new figure was derived from 2014 estimates for 8-year-olds diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in 11 communities across the nation.
Autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability, is characterized by problems with communication and social interaction with accompanying repetitive behavior patterns.
“Parents know their child best,” said Daisy Christensen, 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. “We want to encourage parents to be aware of their child’s development, to be aware of the milestones that children achieve.”
By tracking milestones, parents can report any concerns to a health care provider, who will refer the child for a comprehensive development evaluation “so that any delays or impairments can be identified and that child can be connected with services,” Christensen said.
The CDC launched the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network in 2000 to collect data that would provide estimates of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. The agency laid the groundwork for the network in 1996, when it developed a methodology for estimating autism prevalence using information from children’s health and education records, Christensen said.
“There were more than 300,000 children living in these communities — about 8% of all 8-year old children living in the US,” she said. “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.”
Though estimates of autism varied widely among the 11 communities, five reported similar estimates of up to 1.4%. The New Jersey community estimated the highest prevalence of autism, at 2.9%.
Overall, fewer than half of the children identified with autism had received their first diagnosis by the time they were 4 years old, the new CDC report finds. Concerns about development were noted in the health records of 85% of children with autism by age 3, but only 42% received a developmental evaluation by that age.