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New report shows prevalence of autism rising in U.S.

Apr. 26, 2018, 12:01 PM


The prevalence of U.S. children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now 1 in 59, according to new estimates released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a significant increase from the 1 in 68 estimate in 2016.

Estimates range from 1 in 34 in New Jersey to 1 in 76 in Arkansas; roughly 1 in 38 boys have autism, outnumbering girls 4-to-1, according to the report.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center partnered with the CDC to publish, for the first time, specific data regarding ASD prevalence in Tennessee, which is 1 in 64 for an 11-county region surrounding Nashville.

“The new CDC numbers are the best evidence we have of just how common this disorder is,” said Zachary Warren, PhD, executive director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s (VKC) Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD).

“While recent estimates have varied, we have always known the individual, familial, educational and societal costs that go along with autism are tremendous. In some communities we are now seeing autism in almost 3 percent of the population,” said Warren, also lead investigator for the Tennessee Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

VUMC participated in the population study through a $1.8 million grant from the CDC’s ADDM Network.

VKC/TRIAD is working with the Tennessee Department of Education (TN DOE) to build capacity to meet the educational needs of children and young adults with ASD.

“In Tennessee we have been fortunate to be working with leaders who have been quite forward-thinking in understanding the importance and challenge of meeting the educational needs of children with autism and their families,” said TRIAD Director A. Pablo Juárez, MEd, also a co-investigator of the TN ADDM network.

“This is a disorder you need to know about if you are an administrator, a teacher, parent or medical provider. We need to be active in designing realistic and meaningful classrooms and systems of care,” he said.

TRIAD is using TN DOE technical assistance and training grants to meet educational and behavioral needs of children with ASD and their families through:

  • A school-aged training program designed to equip teachers, special educators and administrators with evidence-based resources for meeting classroom needs
  • An early childhood grant facilitating the development of model preschool classrooms and enhancing the preschool workforce for children with autism
  • Early intervention contracts utilizing advancements in telemedicine and early intervention to place meaningful services in the hands of families without delay

“Without the support of the Tennessee Department of Education and district-level advocates across Tennessee, we would not have been able to do this CDC work,” Warren said.

“TRIAD’s longstanding relationship with state and local educational leaders formed the basis for this work, but ultimately forms a larger and more important foundation aimed at realizing high-quality educational services for children with ASD in Tennessee.”

As recently as the 1970s, autism was believed to affect just 1 in 2,000 children. The newly-released data is based off children born in 2006 and means autism possibly affects over 1 million U.S. children and teens.

Although early screening at 18 and 24 months of age is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC data continue to document that children are often not receiving an ASD diagnosis until much later.

“In Tennessee only 34 percent of children with autism received a comprehensive evaluation before 3 years of age,” Warren said. “We should be working to get that number closer to 90 percent or more.”

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