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Taking a Look at the CDC Numbers


The Prevalence Data from ADDM monitoring network. Image from CDC website –

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an update to its ongoing surveillance study of autism prevalence. The study involves eleven states and began in 2000. Much of the prevalence data that we read about (1 in 68 8-year-old schoolchildren nationally, or up to 1 of every 58 8-year-old schoolchildren in North Carolina) is a result of the CDC’s work. Updates to numbers are provided every two years, and we have grown accustomed to the data showing an increase in prevalence. This year, that did not happen.

Yesterday’s data showed that the prevalence across the eleven monitoring sites stayed the same at 1 in 68. In North Carolina, the prevalence changed by one digit, going from 1 in 58 to 1 in 59.

So, what does it mean? Here are a couple of questions we have been asked:

  • Are rates stabilizing? In some sample sites, there was an increase in prevalence. In others, a decrease. Also, there were differences in data from site to site. For example, in North Carolina, researchers used health and educational records. In other states, only educational records were used. We will be able to determine whether rates have “stabilized” when the 2018 update is released.
  • Are fewer kids being diagnosed? Based on the calls and requests that the Autism Society of North Carolina handles annually, no. We are receiving more calls and requests for our “After the Diagnosis” workshop than ever before. Notably, the NC Department of Public Instruction conducts an annual survey of kids in the public schools. That data, the NC Statistical Profile, shows that the number of students with a diagnosis of autism is increasing annually by 16%. That trend has been consistent for over a decade.

What else did the report say?

Significantly, North Carolina again led the nation with the earliest median age of diagnosis: 37 months. This means we are identifying, referring, and diagnosing kids earlier in our state than anywhere else in the country. We urge all parents and caregivers to seek a comprehensive evaluation when concerns arise.

The Autism Society of North Carolina has worked to increase awareness and understanding of the signs and symptoms of autism, and the study shows that these efforts are paying off. Why is this important? By having an early diagnosis, children and families are able to access support services through their schools and other organizations. This also cuts the cost of care for an individual with autism by an estimated $1,000,000 over the lifespan. We must continue these efforts.

While it is good to have the earliest median diagnosis, significant differences exist among populations for age of diagnosis in NC and nationally. To close this gap, we must increase our outreach and education efforts in underserved communities. ASNC is working on this issue through our Hispanic Affairs department and our faith-based initiatives, which encourage education and inclusiveness. We must continue these efforts, because every child with autism deserves the opportunity to receive appropriate and personalized treatments.

Finally, an important point to remember is that the children with autism in the study will grow up to be adults with autism. Early intervention and supports are important, but we must invest in and expand services and resources for individuals with autism who are transitioning to adulthood. The 1 in 59 children will become 1 in 59 adults living, working, and contributing to their communities. The current adult population also needs supports and opportunities, so we must not focus solely on the early years.

What can you do to help?

We welcome your participation in spreading awareness and understanding. April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, so please visit our website for more information about autism and local resources. Our special #A2AforAutism page has a wealth of ideas and resources to help your community be more aware and accepting of children and adults with autism this year. You can also donate to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families, or get involved by participating or volunteering in one of our Run/Walk for Autism events.



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