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Little Rock: ASD rates "have skyrocketed"; BETTER DIAGNOSING, GREATER AWARENESS

May 14, 2024, THV11, Little Rock, AR: Experts say autism diagnoses are increasing | Here's how Arkansas compares

Doctors have been diagnosing more children with autism than ever before, and now experts in Arkansas are sharing how our state's numbers compare to others.

 Doctors have been diagnosing more children with autism than ever before, and reports from the CDC show that rates of the condition have skyrocketed in recent years.

We took a closer look at what's behind the increase and how the state of Arkansas compares to the rest of the country.

When two-year-old Easton isn't eating or playing, you'll find him developing new skills. 

A doctor diagnosed him with Autism, a developmental disorder that impairs a person's ability to communicate and interact just last month.

Now, Easton's family has been learning more about the disorder every day.

"I want to do anything I can to help to promote research or inclusion for the kids and just advocating for them," said Easton's mom, Hayley Trimble said.

According to the CDC, one in 36 children in the United States is on the autism spectrum.

Trimble explained how she and Easton's pediatrician saw the signs early on and wanted to get him screened.

"Sometimes, he'll flap his arms, or he'll play with a toy different than another child. We started noticing some things at around 15 months. [He said] some words and then was regressing, was a little behind on walking and things like that. So she and I talked about just going ahead and getting him into some therapy," Trimble described.

This past April, Trimble had a different outlook on Autism Acceptance Month as she now recognizes how Easton isn't living through this disorder alone.

"I'm just wanting to do all I can to help other families. I've had friends that reached out with kids close to Easton's age, and they're like, hey what were some things that you saw? I think I may be in the same boat with my kid," Trimble added.

"I think the numbers are definitely increasing," said Dr. Maya Lopez, who oversees developmental behavioral pediatrics at UAMS. 

The data backs her up. In 2020, the CDC studied autism rates in kids across eleven states.

Here in Arkansas, researchers found that among four-year-olds, one in every 62 had been identified with autism, which was up from one in 84 back in 2018.

Those stats follow a national trend of rising diagnoses.

"The prevalence estimates from the CDC show us that the numbers have tripled in the past 20 years," she explained.

When it comes to the reason behind that increase, Dr. Lopez points to a few key factors.

"It is true that we are better at diagnosing, it is true that we have better tools, it is true that more people are aware," Dr. Lopez said.

Experts said having an earlier diagnosis is important so children can receive support sooner, but increased awareness has led to a new problem. There are not enough doctors to diagnose or help develop treatment plans.

That can mean a long waiting list for appointments.

"I joined UAMS in 2006. At that time, we would have autism evaluations in our center, the Dennis Development Center, three days a week, two patients per day. Six for the whole week. Currently, we have three teams or six kids a day, every day we do it. And we're still way behind," she said.

There's also another factor likely that is behind more autism diagnoses and that's better parent awareness.
"Parents are more aware of what the symptoms should look like, and they are better reporters," she added.

Trimble is one of those parents that's more aware and she plans to continue advocating for her son and others on the autism spectrum. 

"It affects every family differently and so we're just diving in, and we're just going to make the best of every day that we have, you know, and helping him to grow," Trimble said.



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