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Study: As Many As 1 in 40 U.S. Children Has Autism

Dec 07, 2018


Research by the CDC and HHS, supported by the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, suggests that as many as one in 40 U.S. children has autism.

As many as 1 in 40 children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with researchers from Drexel University, Harvard Medical School and George Washington University. The report, based on data from the DHS’s 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, seems to confirm a decades-long trend of increasing autism diagnoses among children in the United States.

“This research is another step toward getting our arms around the number of people who are affected by autism spectrum disorder,” said Paul Shattuck, PhD, an associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health and head of the Institute’s Life Course Outcomes research program in the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. While there have been a number of efforts to understand just how many people have autism, one thing they have in common is that most of them suggest the number is growing. Studies like these show that we need to continue to increase the resources to support and develop treatments for people with autism.”

The finding — that about 1.5 million U.S. children have received an autism diagnosis — which was recently reported in the journal Pediatrics, represents an increase in prevalence of childhood autism from the CDC’s most recent biennial report on autism in 2014, which suggested that 1 in 59 American children had autism. While that number was based on an examination of available medical and education records of children between the ages of 8 and 11, this report, from the DHS Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, digs a bit deeper by asking more than 43,000 parents if their children had received an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. The survey also expanded the age range of “children” to 3 to 17 years old.

“Through the National Survey of Children's Health, our study provides the most recent nationally representative data on both the prevalence of autism and some of the challenges families face obtaining care," said lead author Michael D. Kogan, Ph.D., director, Office of Epidemiology and Research of the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau. "This new information improves our capacity to understand and address autism, a complex neurological disorder."

The National Survey, which takes a broad look at children’s health, has included several questions about autism in each of its last four iterations since 2003, with the findings helping to direct federal and state support programs and policies. By taking a focused look at the autism-related data from the most recent survey, the research team also identified a number of trends in autism diagnosis:

  • Boys are 3.46 times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls
  • Diagnoses are twice as prevalent among children from households below the federal poverty level by comparison to children from families whose income is at least four-times the FPL
  • Preterm children are also 71 percent more likely to be diagnosed
  • US-born children were 2.34 times more likely to be diagnosed than foreign-born children

The research also suggests that families of children with ASD have reported greater health care need and challenges — some 27 percent of children with ASD diagnosis were taking medication for autism-related symptoms and 64 percent of children with ASD diagnosis received behavioral treatment in the past 12 months.

“Even after decades of hard work in the area of autism research, it’s clear that we’re only just beginning to understand the scope of ASD and its social and economic ripple effects,” Shattuck said. 

Read the full report here: