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Autism Rate Remains Steady

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of children with autism spectrum disorder is unchanged over two years. (Greg Stotelmyer)
A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of children with autism spectrum disorder is unchanged over two years. (Greg Stotelmyer)
April 6, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The numbers are holding steady in the United States in the latest snapshot of autism spectrum disorder.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which studied 8-year-olds in 11 states, one in 68 children is diagnosed as autistic, the same rate the agency found two years ago. Dr. Stuart Shapira, chief medical officer for the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said they found more children need to be tested at an earlier age.

"When concerns are raised, it's important that parents and providers move forward to get that first evaluation, and parents don't have to wait if there's concern," he said. "They can go through their state's early intervention program and local school system, and get that evaluation for free."

The report said boys are almost five times more likely to be diagnosed than girls, and that only 43 percent of children identified with autism got evaluated by age 3.

Wendy Wheeler-Mullins of Lexington, who has two children with autism, said her 24-year-old daughter was diagnosed when she was 3 and her 17-year-old son when he was 5. Wheeler-Mullins said she believes clinicians are getting better at identifying autism, especially in kids who have more subtle forms of the disorder. She said a common stumbling block for parents is accessing the help their children need.

"The treatments are there," she said, "but they can't get the treatment because their insurance won't pay or they can't get a Medicaid card, or something like that."

Epidemiologist Dr. Daisy Christensen, the report's lead author, said there are fewer autism cases among African-American and Hispanic children. However, she said, that might be because they aren't being tested.

"So, lower autism prevalence in these groups of non-white children may be due to a lack of identification," she said, "and if so, then better identification efforts in these groups might result in increasing autism prevalence in those groups in future years."

Last Friday, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed Senate Bill 185, which creates an Office of Autism and attaches the state's Advisory Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders to that agency.

The CDC report is online at cdc.gov. The text of Senate Bill 185 is at lrc.ky.gov.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY