SAN DIEGO — Autism rates are rising and changing quickly in the United States, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego provide a closer look into what that means, and how California in particular is seeing record numbers.
The latest analysis shows that 1 in 36 American 8-year-olds (2.8%) have been diagnosed with autism. This is notably higher than the reported 1 in 44 (2.3%) of children from December 2021. The figure looks even steeper when you compare it to the CDC’s first autism prevalence report from 2007, which showed only 1 in 150 children (0.7%) were.
Data for this analysis was collected by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, a CDC-funded program that aims to understand the prevalence and traits of children with autism. ADDM surveys children ages 4 and 8 in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. The California ADDM site is conveniently based at UC San Diego and provides autism reports within the local county.
According to the ADDM Network, currently the median age of first diagnosis across these states for 8 year olds was a bit over 4 years. Just in California, the age was 3 years, which means children in this state are getting diagnosed quicker.
“California is unique because of the intense focus on early detection and extensive early services,” says study co-author Karen Pierce, PhD, professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine, co-director of the UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence and principal investigator of the ADDM California site, in a media release. “Some children in San Diego are diagnosed with autism by their second birthday and connected to services quickly thereafter. This is great news because the sooner they can be connected to services and support, the more likely they are to thrive in school and in later life.”
Aside from state lines, there are differences in race and ethnicity as well. All previous CDC reports have shown that white children were identified with the condition more often than others. This is the first year that shows the opposite. The researchers found that autism rates are higher in all minorities. However in California, there were no racial differences to note.
“This first-of-a-kind finding is exciting because it suggests a movement towards equity in services for all children on the spectrum,” notes Pierce.
The autism discussion can’t end without addressing the gender gap, either. Young boys are by and large diagnosed more often than girls. In fact, historically they have been 4 to 5 times more. This most recent report shows that the gap is closing, with more girls being diagnosed with autism. The ADDM Network shows a lower ratio between boys and girls overall, which means things are moving in the right direction. This same trend is happening in California individually, too.
Since ADDM only looks at specific states, it clearly doesn’t provide a true picture for the entire United States, but it still highlights the need for accessible early detection for families and their children. For those looking for more information, the CDC offers a program called “Learn the Signs. Act Early” , which provides free tools in several languages to help parents monitor their children’s development from as early as 2 months of age. They also offer a Milestone Tracker app to help keep track of things and communicate any important findings directly to their healthcare professionals.
The findings are published on the CDC website.