Latest CDC Report Shows Rising Autism Prevalence

The latest CDC report reveals a significant increase in autism prevalence, shedding light on the impact of COVID-19 and shifting demographics among affected children within the (ADDM) Network.

In a new analysis published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), it has come to light that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among 8-year-old children has risen. The findings, based on data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, provide valuable insights into autism in the United States. The network covers 11 sites across the United States (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin).

The most striking finding is that one in 36 (2.8%) 8-year-old children have now been identified with ASD. This figure is notably higher than the 2018 estimate, which reported a prevalence of 1 in 44 (2.3%). However, it’s important to note that this data does not represent the entire United States, as it is specific to the 11 ADDM communities.

A second report from the same 11 communities, focusing on 4-year-old children, highlights the impact of COVID-19 on early autism detection. During the early months of the pandemic, 4-year-old children were less likely to receive an evaluation or be identified with ASD compared to their 8-year-old counterparts. This disruption coincides with the challenges faced in childcare and healthcare services during the pandemic.

In a press release accompanying the analysis, the CDC’s Director of the National Centre on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Karen Remley, expressed concern about these disruptions, stating that “the timely evaluation of children and delays in connecting children to the services and support they need could have long-lasting effects.” The report emphasises the need for communities to understand how the pandemic affected early autism identification and to anticipate future needs as these children grow older.

Notably, the data also reveals shifts in autism prevalence among different racial and ethnic groups. In 2020, ASD prevalence among Asian, Black, and Hispanic children was at least 30% higher than in 2018, while ASD prevalence among White children was 14.6% higher. For the first time, the percentage of 8-year-old Asian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and Black children identified with autism was higher than among 8-year-old White children, potentially indicating improved screening, awareness, and access to services among historically underserved groups.

Disparities persist regarding co-occurring intellectual disability, with a higher percentage of Black children with autism identified as such compared to their White, Hispanic, or Asian counterparts. Access to diagnostic and support services may significantly affect these differences. Overall, the findings emphasise the need for continued research, support, and awareness regarding autism. It is vital to understand the challenges faced by families and communities in the wake of the pandemic and work toward improved early detection, intervention, and support for individuals with autism. The variation in prevalence across the ADDM Network sites also underscores the importance of examining policies at a local level and models for delivering diagnostic and intervention services to enhance autism identification and support nationwide.