New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests more children in the U.S. are being diagnosed with autism at younger ages.
The CDC released 2018 data on Thursday from nearly a dozen states that showed, among 8-year-olds, 1 in 44 had been diagnosed with autism. In 2016, the number was 1 in 54 children for the same age group. While autism numbers have grown consistently over the years, experts believe the increase is due to raised awareness and access to treatment services, not the number of children who have autism.
Additional CDC data, also released Thursday, found children were 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism by age 4 in 2018 compared to 2014.
"The substantial progress in early identification is good news because the earlier that children are identified with autism, the sooner they can be connected to services and support," said Karen Remley, M.D., director of CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a press release from the organization. "Accessing these services at younger ages can help children do better in school and have a better quality of life."
The authors pointed out that the latest report is an estimate from data gathered in counties across 11 states, and does not reflect all of the U.S., as numbers for each state spread across a wide range. One in 26 children were affected in California, where there is a lot of access to services, compared to 1 in 60 in Missouri.
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While overall autism rates were similar across races and ethnicities, the data showed that numbers for Hispanic children at certain sites were lower than for Black or white. In addition, a higher percentage of Black children with autism were identified with intellectual disability compared to white or Hispanic children with autism. "These differences could relate in part to access to services that diagnose and support children with autism," the release states.
In Utah, rates for children from low-income families were higher compared to those from high-income households, another change from a previous pattern, said co-author Amanda Bakian, a University of Utah researcher who supervises the CDC's autism surveillance in that state, according to the Associated Press.
She noted that the higher numbers are likely due to Medicaid and private health insurance providers offering more coverage for autism services.