top of page

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY: Autism numbers rising/cause unknown; US fails 1/3 of them

Dec 13, 2018, Psychology Today: How Many Children Have Autism? Estimates Continue to Rise The prevalence of autism has risen over the past few decades, a finding established by multiple methods of assessing prevalence. New analyses of a national survey emphasize this trend—estimating a rate of 2.5 percent. They also call attention to the barriers that families face in trying to access services and treatment for children with the condition. “Nearly a third of children with autism aren’t receiving treatment,” says Wei Bao, the lead author of one analysis and an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa. “Autism is a condition with a lifetime impact, so we want to see children receive appropriate treatment, because it will benefit their lifetime health.” Two research teams recently mined the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health for insights on autism prevalence and treatment. The survey encompassed 43,000 children across the United States; parents of those children reported whether a mental health professional had ever told them their child had autism. Both papers—one published in Pediatrics and one published in JAMA Pediatrics—reported that based on parents’ responses, 2.5 percent of U.S. children age 3 to 17 have an autism diagnosis. … The other research team, a collaboration of individuals from multiple federal and academic institutions, explored the experiences of families as they accessed treatment. Parents of children with autism were twice as likely to usually or always experience frustration when attempting to access services compared to parents of children with other emotional or behavioral conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD, and intellectual disability. … The CDC currently estimates that the prevalence of autism is 1.7 percent. The discrepancy between 1.7 percent and 2.5 percent signal that one of the two estimates is incorrect, Mandell says. Of the two, he believes the CDC’s estimate is closer to the true prevalence. Despite these limitations, CDC reports also show that rates of autism are rising. In 2002, the first year for which the CDC has available prevalence data, the estimate was 1 in 150. The number jumped to 1 in 125 in 2004. The most recent report places the prevalence at 1 in 59. Many elements have converged to produce this increase. In 1990, the federal government designated autism as a special education category, prompting states to begin counting children with autism and providing services. In 1994, the definition of autism expanded to include a broader spectrum of cases when Asperger’s syndrome was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. … These changes capture how the medical community has cast a wider net to identify and treat the condition. Yet biological forces likely also contribute to autism’s rise. Older parental age, and especially older paternal age, is a major risk factor for developing the condition, Durkin says, and parents are having children later in life. Babies who are born prematurely are also at an elevated risk for developing autism. Modern technologies have allowed more premature babies to survive, likely leading to more children with autism. These clues explain a small portion of the rise but cannot account for the entire change, Durkin says….


bottom of page