Experts Say Rise in U.S. Autism Cases Reflects More Awareness, Better Services

Experts announced Thursday that the rise of autism cases for the United States is reflected from people being more aware of the disorder and better services available to diagnose and treat it, the Associated Press reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from autism cases from 2018 from nearly a dozen states across the country. Autism cases in the country have been on the rise for many years.

The analysis showed that experts believe the increase in autism cases isn't that more children are now affected by autism than before, but the increase is from heightened awareness around the disease and better services available for treatment.

According to the analysis, in 2016 children at age 8 were diagnosed with autism 1 in 54 times. However, in 2018 the same age group was diagnosed 1 in 44 times.

Children by the age of four were 50 percent less likely to be diagnosed with autism in 2014 than in 2018, according to a separate CDC report.

"There is some progress being made and the earlier kids get identified, the earlier they can access services that they might need to improve their developmental outcome," said Kelly Shaw, a co-author and CDC researcher for the report.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Student, Elementary School
New autism numbers released December 2 suggest more U.S. children are being diagnosed with the developmental condition and at younger ages. A student arrives as the sun rises during the first day of school on August 4 at Freeman Elementary School in Flint, Michigan. Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP Photo

Geraldine Dawson, director of Duke University's Center for Autism and Brain Development, said the new estimate is similar to one found in research based on screening a large population of children rather than on those already diagnosed. As such, she said it may be closer to reflecting the true state of autism in U.S. children than earlier estimates.

The CDC reports are based on data from counties and other communities in 11 states—some with more urban neighborhoods, where autism rates tend to be higher. The rates are estimates and don't necessarily reflect the entire U.S. situation, the authors said.

Autism rates varied widely—from 1 in 26 in California, where services are plentiful, to 1 in 60 in Missouri.

Overall, autism prevalence was similar across racial and ethnic lines, but rates were higher among Black children in two sites, Maryland and Minnesota. Until recently, U.S. data showed prevalence among white children was higher.

At a third site, Utah, rates were higher among children from lower-income families than those from wealthier families, reversing a longstanding trend, said report co-author Amanda Bakian, a University of Utah researcher who oversees the CDC's autism surveillance in that state.

Bakian said that likely reflects more coverage for autism services by Medicaid and private health insurers.

The new autism numbers were released Thursday and suggested more U.S. children are being diagnosed with the developmental condition and at younger ages.