CDC Data Shows Autism Diagnoses In Children On The Rise

With the 16th annual World Autism Awareness Day fast approaching come April, organizations such as Autism Speaks will be raising awareness and highlighting the lived experiences of those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In a recent press release, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared the latest findings from The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network regarding prevalence rates of ASD among 8-year-old children in 2020. Pulling data from community medical sources and educational service providers, the ADDM evaluated autism rates in young children across Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.

The research revealed an increase in ASD diagnoses among 8-year-old children from 2.3% in 2018 (1 in 44) to 2.8% (1 in 36) in 2020. Results varied by state, with California seeing prevalence rates of nearly 45 per every 1,000 children, compared to Maryland's 23.1 per every 1,000 8-year-olds. Additionally, researchers saw a steeper increase of 30% in ASD prevalence rates amongst Asian, Black, and Hispanic children compared to a nearly 15% increase amongst white children from 2018 to 2020. In light of these findings, experts have weighed in suggesting what factors may have contributed to these increased rates of diagnosis.

Contributing factors to rising rates of ASD diagnoses

The agency cites COVID-19 as one potential contributing factor to the recent rise of ASD diagnosis rates in young children. "Disruptions due to the pandemic in the timely evaluation of children and delays in connecting children to the services and support they need could have long-lasting effects," Dr. Karen Remley, director of CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, stated via the press release. An additional CDC report regarding ASD prevalence rates in 4-year-old children lends further evidence to these claims, illustrating the ways in which the pandemic delayed early detection efforts.

The CDC also cites increased accessibility to healthcare services amongst historically underserved communities as another potential influencing factor in rising ASD diagnosis rates. They note, though, that the geographic variability of the diagnosis rates suggests that access to services may be lagging in some areas, and that improving support mechanisms is vital.

Expansion of telehealth services may be one support option to consider. Andy Shih, Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, told Forbes that telehealth has significantly helped those who face barriers to accessing in-person healthcare. "There are many ways we can improve the situation, such as targeted awareness activities in these communities as well as enhanced access," Shih said.