Prevalence of Autism

Autism statistics from the CDC identify around 1 in 54 American children are on the autism-spectrum; a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies demonstrate that autism is five times more likely in boys than girls. An estimated one out of 42 boys and one in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Autism is more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.

In March 2020 the Centers for Disease Control released the biennial update on autism’s estimated prevalence among the nation’s children, based on a 2016 medical and/or school records of 8-year-old from 11 monitoring sites across the United States. There were some important progress made in key indicators: for the first time, prevalence rates are the same for black and white children indicating that gaps in access to screening and diagnosis may be closing.

Autism Speaks listed several other key findings from the 2020 CDC report:

  • One in 54 children had a diagnosis of ASD by age 8 in 2016, a nearly 10 percent increase over 2014 when the estimate was 1 in 59.
  • While the CDC found no difference in prevalence rates between black and white children, a gap remains in prevalence among Hispanic children, indicating a need to expand screening and intervention among this group. Further black and Hispanic children identified with autism received evaluations at older ages than similar white children, again indicating that more needs to be done in this area.
  • The number of children who had a developmental screening by age 3 increased from 74 percent to 84 percent, a sign of potential progress toward earlier and more consistent screening by healthcare providers.
  • Boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed as girls, holding steady from previous reports. This indicates the need for more research to understand the gap in prevalence and ensure girls on the spectrum are receiving the care they need.
  • Significant differences remain in the frequency of autism diagnosis between the CDC’s monitoring sites. These range from a low of 1 in 76 in Colorado to a high of 1 in 32 in New Jersey. This may be due to how autism is diagnosed and documented in different communities.
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