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CDC: Autism prevalence 30% higher than previously thought

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The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children (or 14.7 per 1,000 8-year-olds) in multiple communities in the U.S. has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to a new report.

This new estimate is roughly 30% higher than previous estimates reported in 2012 of 1 in 88 children (11.3 per 1,000 8-year-olds) identified with an autism spectrum disorder. The number of children identified with ASD ranged from 1 in 175 children in Alabama to 1 in 45 children in New Jersey.

For the surveillance summary report, published in the March 28 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers reviewed records from community sources that educate, diagnose, treat and/or provide services to children with developmental disabilities. The criteria used to diagnose ASDs and the methods used to collect data have not changed.

The data continue to show that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls: 1 in 42 boys versus 1 in 189 girls. White children are more likely to be identified as having ASD than are black or Hispanic children.

Levels of intellectual ability vary greatly among children with autism, ranging from severe intellectual challenges to average or above average intellectual ability. The study found that almost half of children identified with ASD have average or above average intellectual ability (an IQ above 85), compared with a third of children a decade ago.

“Community leaders, health professionals, educators and childcare providers should use these data to ensure children with ASD are identified as early as possible and connected to the services they need,” Coleen Boyle, PhD, MS hyg., director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a news release.

The report also shows most children with ASD are diagnosed after age 4, even though ASD can be diagnosed as early as age 2. Healthy People 2020, which established national 10-year health objectives, strives to increase the proportion of young children with an ASD and other developmental delays who are screened, evaluated and enrolled in early intervention services in a timely manner.

“The most important thing for parents to do is to act early when there is a concern about a child’s development,” Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, MD, chief of the CDC’s Developmental Disabilities Branch, said in the news release. “If you have a concern about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves, take action. Don’t wait.”

Report: www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6302a1.htm

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