On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a recent study completed on the prevalence of Autism. In the study, the researchers suggest that 1 in 40 children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Results of the study contradict estimates provided by the Centers for Disease Control. Previous CDC estimates on the prevalence of ASD concluded 1 in 59 children received the diagnosis.
In a report released in April 2018, the CDC suggested that 1.7% of children received an ASD diagnosis. The data collected in the CDC study reviewed health and special education records in 11 communities across the United States. The study looked at children who were eight years old.
In the findings, the CDC determined some of the communities saw little or no change in the number of children diagnosed with Autism. However, a New Jersey community reported that 2.9% of children obtained an Autism diagnosis. In New Jersey, boys received the diagnosis more than girls.
According to the report released by the AAP, Autism is more prevalent than what the CDC estimated. However, there is a sharp difference in how researchers collected their data for the study.
In the AAP study, experts reviewed data from children aged 3-17 years old. Additionally, the AAP study does not include data from special education or health records. The AAP study relies solely on parent-reported data. 1.5 million parents reported that their child had a diagnosis of Autism.
The discrepancy between the two studies can make it hard to determine if Autism is on the rise in the United States. Even the CDC cannot say for sure what is contributing to the increasing number of children diagnosed with the disorder.
However, the CDC suggests that expanded diagnostic criteria for Autism and increased efforts to diagnose ASD could be contributing to more children receiving the diagnosis.
Thomas Frazier, chief science officer of Autism Speaks, told CNN in an email he isn’t convinced by the new study published by the AAP. In the email, Frazier said, “Prevalence is not growing that rapidly, although the CDC’s data suggests it is still growing.”
Frazier continued, “What is happening is that these studies use methods that are a bit more liberal and inclusive than the CDC’s methods.” He told CNN he prefers to use the CDC estimate on Autism prevalence.
Authors of the AAP study stated their study did have limitations because the study relied on parent-reported data. The CDC’s study collected data from health providers and special education records.
Frazier also pointed out that children that were previously diagnosed with “intellectual disability” are now receiving the ASD diagnosis. Additionally, Frazier pointed to other factors that could contribute to the growing number of children diagnosed with the disorder.
“We’re waiting longer to have kids, and older parents are more likely to have a child with autism, and premature babies are living at rates that they didn’t use to live at, so those babies are at risk for autism,” he said, adding that there are probably other unknown risk factors.Daisy Christensen, a team leader from the developmental disabilities branch of the CDC, echoed the same beliefs of Frazier on the study.
In a statement to CNN she said, “Over the ’80s and ’90s, the diagnostic criteria expanded to include more children. I think that’s definitely a possibility for the increase that we’ve seen.”
She also pointed out that in the past 50% of children diagnosed with Autism also carried the intellectual disability diagnosis. Today only 1/3 of children with ASD have an intellectual disability. Christensen said, “And that’s really consistent with identifying children who are perhaps at the milder end of the spectrum.”
Because research has failed to identify a specific reason for what causes Autism, debates on the prevalence of the disorder will continue. What all researchers agree on is that children with Autism need access to services and support to help them develop.
By diagnosing children earlier with Autism, children have better long-term outcomes and the likelihood of independent living.
If you enjoy my articles, please consider a one time gift via my Buy Me a Coffee Account. I work hard to provide insightful content every day for you to enjoy.
Subscribe and commit to a small monthly donation to support my writing. Patrons receive access to individual messages from me, inside information, and a community to talk with other like-minded people.