According to a new report from the CDC, 1 out of 59 children in the US has autism. This is a significant increase from the 2016 report, which indicated 1 out of 68 children had autism. It is a 15% increase, and represents a 150% increase since 2000.
“Parents know their child best,” said the 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, Daisy Christensen. “We want to encourage parents to be aware of their child’s development, to be aware of the milestones that children achieve.”
CDC started the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network in 2000 in order to compile information that would help them determine the prevalence of autism and other developmental difficulties among children in the United States. The data collected in this recent study was collected in 2014 from over 300,000 8 year old children in 11 different US communities. These communities contained diverse enough populations to give accurate figures for different ethnic and economic groups in the US.
According to Christensen, the increase in autism rates may be a results of broadening definitions of the term. “Over the ’80s and ’90s, the diagnostic criteria expanded to include more children,” she said, “so I think that’s definitely a possibility for the increase that we’ve seen.” More than half of autism diagnoses also coincided with intellectual disabilities, but in recent years, that number is only about one third. “And that’s really consistent with identifying children who are perhaps at the milder end of the spectrum,” she added.
In 2012, autism prevalence was found to be around 20% higher in white children than in black children, though it is only 10% now. Compared to Hispanic children, white children had a 50% higher rate, but now it is only 20%. “We don’t have any biological reason to think that autism prevalence would vary by race/ethnicity,” Christensen noted, which is an indicator that the large gaps may mean that racial minorities with autism were less likely to be identified in the past, and may still be underrepresented. In the Maryland, Minnesota, and New Jersey communities, there were no differences at all in the autism rates of black and white children. Thomas Frazier, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, said this new government report is “really important because it’s a significant increase. It’s a meaningful increase.”