The number of American children diagnosed with autism is on the rise yet again, according to new government data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that 1 in 54 kids have the developmental disorder. That’s a jump from the 1 in 59 rate that was reported just two years ago.
The latest figures published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report are based on data collected in 2016 through the agency’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which regularly tracks prevalence by reviewing health and educational records for 8-year-olds living in 11 communities across the country.
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On the plus side, CDC officials said that more children are being evaluated for and diagnosed with autism at younger ages. In addition, this marks the first time that the government monitoring network has seen the same prevalence in black and white children.
“Some of the increase in autism prevalence might be due to the way children are identified, diagnosed and receiving services in their communities,” said Stuart Shapira, associate director for science at the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “The increase may also reflect reductions in racial differences in identification of autism.”
Despite the gains seen in identification of black children, the latest report found that Hispanic children continued to be diagnosed at lower rates. And, both black and Hispanic kids with autism were evaluated for the developmental disorder at older ages than their white peers.
Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, said that most of the increase in prevalence can be attributed to the changing diagnosis rate in black children. And, if the estimated prevalence of autism is increasing because clinicians are getting better at identifying kids with the developmental disorder, “then that’s positive.”
Nonetheless, she said that the CDC findings — particularly related to Hispanic children — show that “there’s still a lot of work to be done here to try to reduce these disparities.”
Boys were four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, the CDC found. About a third of children with autism had intellectual disability too.
Meanwhile, the median age of autism diagnosis remained greater than age 4 even though the condition can be reliably identified by age 2.
The review identified varying prevalence rates from one state to the next, with a high of 3.1 percent in New Jersey compared to a low of 1.3 percent in Colorado. Those behind the report said that could be due to differences in the availability of services for children with autism and their families by location.
In addition to the report on 8-year-olds, the CDC issued a similar prevalence study on 4-year-olds in six communities that was also conducted by the agency’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
That report found that 84 percent of 4-year-olds received at least one developmental screening by the age of 36 months, up from 74 percent two years ago. That’s significant, experts say.
“We know that the earlier children are diagnosed and the earlier they start intervention, the better their prognosis,” said Singer with the Autism Science Foundation.
This content was originally published here.