Autism data just released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more U.S. children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and at a younger age. A recent look at CDC 2018 data from 11 states showed that 1 in 44 8-year-olds had been diagnosed with autism. This is a huge leap compared with autism data from 2016, when just 1 in 54 children were diagnosed with the condition.
It’s not a surprise that more children are being diagnosed with autism. The number of kids with autism in the United States has been rising for many years. Autism experts say the new data does not mean that more children have autism. The rise tells us that there is more awareness about autism and more treatments available. These factors have led to more kids getting a diagnosis of autism.
Another new CDC says that children were 50 percent more likely to receive an autism diagnosis by age 4 in 2018 than in 2014. “There is some progress being made and the earlier kids get identified, the earlier they can access services that they might need to improve their developmental outcome,’’ said , Kelly Shaw a researcher at the CDC and a co-author of the study.
Autism Data from 11 States
Duke University’s Geraldine Dawson, of the Center for Autism and Brain Development says the new estimate is about screening large numbers of children for autism. This is different than looking at kids who have already been diagnosed with autism. Dawson believes that the new autism numbers come closer to the truth compared to earlier reports. The new CDC reports were based on autism data from counties and neighborhoods in 11 states. Some of the communities are more urban, where autism rates are usually higher. Still, the autism numbers from this study are only estimates. Even the experts who did the study say the new numbers probably do not tell the whole story of autism in children in the United States.
A closer look at the study tells us that the numbers are all about access to services. In California, for example, where there are lots of services the autism rate was 1 in 26. Missouri, on the other hand, showed an autism rate of 1 in 60. That’s a major difference. This very wide gap in the numbers tells us that the rate of autism in U.S. children may be way higher even than the 1 in 44 estimate from 2018.
Autism, the study tells us, is an equal opportunity condition, with ASD affecting every race and ethnicity equally. Here, Maryland and Minnesota were the only exceptions, with higher rates of autism in black children. The new findings on race and autism are interesting, as up until now, more white children were diagnosed with autism.
Autism Data and Economic Factors
As for socioeconomic factors, needy Utah children were more likely to be diagnosed with autism. This too, reverses a trend spanning many years, says Amanda Bakian, one of the authors of the report, and a University of Utah researcher. It is Bakian’s job to collect autism data in Utah for the CDC. It is possible that the higher rate of autism in children from low-income homes is due to greater coverage for ASD services by Medicaid and private health insurers, says Bakian.
New autism reports from Israel, meantime, say it is possible to diagnose autism in children by the age of one year. This research comes from Dr. Hanna A. Alonim of the Bar Ilan University Mifne Center for Early Intervention in the Treatment of Autism and the Weisfeld School of Social Work Continuing Education Unit. Two studies by Alonim’s research team on early autism diagnosis were published in the Journal of Pediatrics & Neonatal Care.
One of the Bar Ilan studies, which took place over a decade, looked at video recordings of 110 babies (84 boys and 26 girls). The infants were later diagnosed with autism between the ages of 2-3. The videos were taken by the parents during the first year of each baby’s life. At the time the babies were filmed, their parents had no suspicion that their infants might have autism. That meant the videos could be used as a control group.
Early Autism Symptoms
The parents also answered questions about when they first noticed autism symptoms in their babies. Such symptoms included not liking to be touched, late motor development, excessive passivity or activity, lack of reaction to events, refusal to eat, accelerated growth of head circumference, and lack of eye contact. Based on the parents’ responses, 89 percent of these autism symptoms could be seen at 4-6 months of age, but it had been difficult for parents to spot these signs at the time.
The CDC autism data tells us that more children may have ASD than we know. The Israeli reports tell us that we can see autism earlier than ever before. It all comes with greater autism awareness in both parents and professionals. And the earlier we know a child has autism, the sooner the child can receive helpful therapies for a better outcome.