Barriers to Early Autism Diagnosis Still Exist

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Special education resources appear to play a significant role in early diagnosis of ASD.
Special education resources appear to play a significant role in early diagnosis of ASD.

New data from the CDC's Autism Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network indicate that an estimated 1 in 68 school-aged children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The data, indicative of trends seen across 11 ADDM network sites in 2012, is similar to data collected in 2010; however experts say it's too early to assume that autism prevalence is stabilizing.

“What we know for sure is that there are many children living with autism who need services and support, now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” said Stuart K. Shapira, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, in a statement. 

The ADDM tracking system provides prevalence and characteristic data from 8-year-old children across 11 communities in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Other insights from the data include:

  • Prevalence is significantly higher among boys (23.6 per 1000) compared to girls (5.3 per 1000)
  • ASD prevalence is significantly higher in non-Hispanic white children compared to non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children
  • 82% of children identified by ADDM sites had a previous ASD diagnosis or educational classification, but this was lower in Hispanic children
  • Median age at earliest known comprehensive evaluation was 40 months
  • Of the 43% who received an evaluation by age 36 months, most were non-Hispanic white children, followed by non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children

“Targeted strategies are needed to identify and address barriers in order to lower the age at which black and Hispanic children are evaluated, diagnosed, and connected to the services they need,” Daisy Christensen, PhD, lead author of the ADDM Network report, said in a statement.

Variations in prevalence across ADDM sites who reviewed only health records or both health records and education records suggest an important role for special education systems in the evaluation and diagnosis of ASD.

“The most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with ASD is early identification,” Dr Shapira said. “Parents, childcare professionals, and doctors can monitor each child's development and act right away on any developmental concerns. It's important to remember that children can be connected to services even before an official diagnosis is made.”

Reference

Christensen DL, Baio J, Braun KV, et al. Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2012. MMWR Surveill Summ. 2016; 65(No. SS-3):1–23. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.ss6503a1.

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