Recorded cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are higher than ever before and, for the first time, data shows it could be more prevalent in minority groups, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. The new information states that around one in 36 eight-year-olds in the US likely has autism, which is substantially up from the one in 44 that was recorded two years prior. It is believed better diagnostics and awareness of the condition explains the increase.
The report also highlighted some interesting differences between ethnicity groups, with minority children being more likely to be diagnosed with autism.
“For the first time, the percentage of 8-year-old Black, Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander (A/PI) children identified with ASD was higher than among 8-year-old White children, which was the opposite of previously observed racial and ethnic differences across the ADDM Network,” write the CDC.
“While this new pattern could indicate overall improvements in equitable identification of ASD, it is important to consider other factors that may be leading to higher rates of ASD in historically under served populations.”
The analysis looked at health and special education data of 4- and 8-year-olds across 11 different locations in the US, to identify autism prevalence compared to previous years.
Overall, children born in 2016 were 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD by the age of 4 compared to children born in 2012, while 8-year-olds now have a one in 36 chance of being diagnosed. Rates are higher in Black, Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander children, of whom three percent are diagnosed as compared to two percent of White children.
This significantly differs from previous findings, where White children were more likely to be diagnosed, which was suspected to be due to better access to healthcare providers.
While much of this data may come as good news due to improved awareness and diagnostics, the report found that the COVID-19 pandemic hit ASD diagnoses hard, with identification in children dropping dramatically around that time. Identification rates have not returned to pre-pandemic levels since, suggesting more work needs to be done to support these children.
It also highlights the need to continuously improve resources to underfunded and minority areas, where children are likely being missed as opposed to actually having lower rates of ASD. The CDC also highlight that any other reasons that could account for this difference need to be explored to fully help minority children.