Today the latest report from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network was released. The ADDM is a surveillance network focused on following the prevalence of ASD. With the establishment of this network, we’ve been able to actually look at the prevalence rate of autism by estimating the rate from 8-year old children in 11 states across the U.S using the same approach each year. What is important about this approach is that prior to the establishment of this network, we were comparing prevalence estimates using different methodologies. We were essentially comparing apples to oranges, which made it difficult to draw conclusions about the rate of autism. With this network we’re able to compare apples to apples.

The way the ADDM operates is through work completed in two phases. The first phase consists of screening and summarizing comprehensive evaluations that are conducted by professional providers in the community in 11 different states. The second phase then involves review of this evaluation information by trained clinicians who determine if the child meets diagnostic criteria for autism. The other interesting thing about this surveillance network is that other information about the children is collected, such as gender, race and ethnicity, and intellectual functioning.

This report presents results from surveillance findings from the year 2014. The previous report in 2016 presented data from findings from 2012. The study highlights an overall prevalence of autism of 1 in 59 for children 8 years of age, which is a 15% increase from that reported by the ADDM in 2014. The report also replicates previous results indicating differences in identification as a function of race and ethnicity. While they found that white children were still more likely to be identified with autism than minority children, the gap is narrowing, particularly for black children. This difference in prevalence rates across racial/ethnic lines is not due to a difference in prevalence, but believed to be a result of decreased access to care and services.

There are a couple of essential points that are important to consider about these findings. There is still a wide range of prevalence rates as a function of geographic region with some states having much higher prevalence rates than others. As such, the 8-year old children in these 11 states in the ADDM Network do not provide a representative sample of the entire country. As a result, the prevalence estimates presented do not necessarily generalize to all children (not even all 8 year old children) in the United States population. However, these findings do highlight where we need to focus our attention: on meeting the needs and increasing access for minority children and on maintaining and increasing awareness of ASD for everyone.

We at Seattle Children’s Autism center are committed to addressing the growing needs of families in our autism community through continuing to provide world-class treatments and interventions, leading cutting-edge research and offering ongoing training for existing and future providers.