Brain development/Law/Policy School of Medicine

Rates of autism continue to rise, new data indicate

Many children still diagnosed late, after age 4

From the WashU Newsroom

New statistics indicate rates of autism in children have continued to increase. However, the rates have increased only modestly, suggesting there may be a leveling off.

Still, researchers found that many children aren’t getting diagnosed until age 4 or older. The older a child is at diagnosis, the harder it is for health-care professionals to intervene and change the trajectory of autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism often face social challenges, communication problems and intellectual deficits, but research suggests some of those hurdles may be overcome with early, intensive therapy.

The new statistical findings, from the 11-center Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which includes Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, are based on data from more than 10,886 children. The results are published April 27 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”

In 2014, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics are available, researchers found that 1.7 percent of 8-year-olds (1 in 59) in the study had a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. That compares with 1.5 percent (1 in 68) in 2012. This increase could indicate an improvement in the identification of autism spectrum disorder, particularly in previously underdiagnosed minority populations, among other factors. Prevalence estimates in the 11 communities represented in this report ranged widely, from a low of 1.3 percent to a high of 3 percent.

“I think this shows that the prevalence of autism in the U.S. is continuing to show signs of steadying,” said John N. Constantino, MD, one of the study’s authors and the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Washington University. “Unfortunately, however, it appears many kids still aren’t getting diagnosed early enough to get maximum benefit from therapy.”

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