You may have seen several articles in the news over the past few months talking about an increase in the “autism rate” in the U.S. The term “autism rate” meaning the prevalence and number of diagnoses in the United States. This statistic usually refers to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) specifically. The data captured by the CDC is meant to help researchers create a baseline, and understand the need for care across the country. Unfortunately, the attempt to bring structure and organization can minimize a much bigger and complex picture of autism in children.
So, why is that the rate of diagnosis seems to have increased and continues to climb? The answer may not be what you think.
About 1 in 59 children in the United States have ASD, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with boys also being four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed. An even more recent survey now suggests that one in 40 children aged 8 has autism spectrum disorder. These estimates are a large jump from data placing the rate at 1 in 68 children in years prior. Statistics like these help contribute to the language that describes autism as an “epidemic” when in reality, these increased rates can be more heavily attributed to advancements in modern medicine, among other things.
Experts in neurodevelopmental medicine say that the increasing prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the CDC’s latest report has more to do with better monitoring and diagnosis of the disorder, rather than an actual rise in the number of children who have ASD. The education and information that is now available to the general public has contributed to a more informed population overall. That access to information is leading more parents than ever before to recognize the signs of autism and in turn, leading more people to the doctor to be diagnosed.
One of the best representations of this data discrepancy is the fact that rates of diagnosis are vastly different based on geographic location within the United States. Geography itself isn’t a factor that determines if a child has autism. Instead, these statistics are more related to the availability of care in a certain geographical region. For example, if a region of the United States is severely lacking pediatricians, behavior specialists, and other neurodevelopmental experts, that region is more likely to demonstrate a lower rate of diagnosis in children with autism because there is a less informed public with less available resources. That fact does not necessarily prove that there are less children with autism.
That being said, there are still many strides to be made in the world of autism and education. For one, there are still large discrepancies in access to care for children belonging to an ethnic minority. The same goes for women and girls, who historically are better at hiding their symptoms at a young age or demonstrate different signs than their male counterparts. It is the responsibility of all care providers, including The Place for Children with Autism to keep themselves and those they serve informed. Our blog posts are just one of the ways we seek to accomplish that mission. You can find plenty more on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well.