In late March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the autism prevalence is higher that it was in 2018. Currently, one in 36 (2.8%) children are identified with autism spectrum disorder, based on 2020 data from 11 communities in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. The previous 2018 estimate was one in 44 (2.3%).
The analysis, which was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also found that ASD prevalence has risen by at least 30% since 2018 among Asian, Black, and Hispanic children. Among White children, ASD prevalence was 14.6% higher than in 2018. The report noted that the percentage of 8-year-old Asian or Pacific Islander (3.3%), Hispanic (3.2%), and black (2.9%) children diagnosed with autism was higher than among 8-year-old White children (2.4%) for the first time. That shift may reflect improved screening, awareness, and access to services among historically underserved groups.
The analysis also found that the prevalence of co-occurring intellectual disability is higher among Black autistic children (50.8%) than among Pacific Islander (41.5%), Hispanic (34.9%), Asian (34.8%), or White (31.8%) autistic children. The authors of the analysis posit that the difference could relate to access to services that diagnose and support autistic children.
Boys were diagnosed with autism four times more than girls in the latest analysis. The CDC noted that this is the first ADDM report in which the prevalence of autism among 8-year-old girls has exceeded 1%.
A second report, based on data on 4-year-old children from the 11 communities in the ADDM network, highlighted the effect COVID had on early diagnosis. In the early months of the pandemic, fewer 4-year-old children had an evaluation or were identified with ASD than 8-year-old children when they were the same age.
“The data in this report can help communities better understand how the pandemic impacted early identification of autism in young children and anticipate future needs as these children get older,” said Karen Remley, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.