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Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses rising, CDC says

Editor’s note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced new prevalence rates for Autism Spectrum Disorders. The Autism Society of North Carolina’s Director of Communications, David Laxton, participated in the conference call announcing the results of the study. Here are his notes and observations with some insights as to what the numbers mean for our state.

On Thursday, March 27, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data as part of their biennial estimates of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) prevalence rates. This effort has occurred since 2000.

  • The data included new prevalence rates for the sample population of 11 states and communities that were monitored through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM). The prevalence rate of ASD is now 1 in 68, a 30 percent increase since the 2012 report, which showed it to be 1 in 88.
  • The median age of diagnosis across the sites was 4 years old.
  • ASD is still five times more common in boys than in girls. White children are more likely to be identified than children in minority groups. Most children are diagnosed after age 4.
  • The most notable change in the past decade is the growing number of those diagnosed who have average or above-average intelligence. A decade ago, it was one-third; now it is 50 percent.
  • A subset of the data was specific to NC and indicated a new prevalence rate in our state of 1 in 58 children. This is an increase of 17 percent from the 2012 data. (The data were from an 11-county sample in central NC totaling 37,783 children.)

What is causing the increase?

  • There was a 30 percent increase in the prevalence of ASD in two years. Some of that was attributed to how individuals with autism are identified and diagnosed in communities.
  • Additional awareness among parents and child-care, school, and medical professionals has helped identify children at risk at an earlier age.
  • Significantly, NC had the youngest median age (37 months) of diagnosis for ASD in the study.

During the media call, the CDC announced a new “Birth to Five: Watch Me Thrive” initiative, which is a federal, cross-agency effort launching today. The initiative has 4 goals:

  • Celebrate developmental milestones via regular screenings
  • Promote developmental/behavioral screening for all (language, motor)
  • Identify delays and concerns early through regular screenings.
  • Enhance developmental supports by providing tools, guidance and tips.

What does this mean for North Carolina? How does the Autism Society of North Carolina help?

  • Early screening and diagnosis continue to be critical. We offer a variety of workshops and information about the signs and symptoms as well as a statewide network of Autism Resource Specialists to answer questions from families, caregivers, and professionals. The ASNC Training department continues to consult to early intervention programs and offer trainings about early diagnosis and best practices.
  • Understanding ASD is critical. Once a child is diagnosed, what do you do? There is a wealth of information available, but how can parents determine the best course of treatment for their children? The ASNC Autism Resource Specialists and Clinical staff are available to provide individualized consultation and family training.
  • Early diagnosis and intervention helps individuals on the autism spectrum lead more productive lives. The Autism Society of North Carolina, in partnership with other organizations, is working to pass HB 498, which would require the State Health Plan and private insurance policies to cover costs associated with the diagnosis and treatment of autism. This will provide significant financial relief to families while saving the state money.
  • There is no cure for autism, but by focusing on the individual’s strengths and working to improve their weaknesses, we can help individuals with ASD live, work, and contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.

“When my son Andrew and I were diagnosed with autism 20 years ago, the Autism Society of North Carolina was there to help us with services and support, as it had been doing for North Carolinians since 1970,” said Dave Spicer, a member of ASNC’s Board of Directors. “Through ASNC, professionals, parents, volunteers and people like me with autism are working together to provide North Carolina’s autism community with the best possible resources to enhance quality of life for everyone affected by autism. We stand ready to listen, and ready to help.”

Families and community members are invited to join ASNC for a free World Autism Awareness Day celebration at Camp Royall in Moncure on Wednesday, April 2, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is an opportunity to learn more about available services and supports.

The Autism Society of North Carolina is committed to providing support and promoting opportunities that enhance the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Individuals interested in supporting ASNC’s efforts can donate online at

To read the complete CDC report, click here.

To read a report on the NC portion, click here.

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