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U.S. Autism Rate Plateaus Amid Calls for Expanded Testing

A new report from the CDC shows boys are much more likely to be diagnosed as autistic, while the overall rate of diagnoses has leveled out. (iStockphoto)
A new report from the CDC shows boys are much more likely to be diagnosed as autistic, while the overall rate of diagnoses has leveled out. (iStockphoto)
April 7, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn - April is National Autism Awareness Month and the numbers are holding steady in the U.S. according to the latest snapshot of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied eight-year-olds in 11 states and said one in 68 children is diagnosed as autistic - the same rate the agency found two years ago.

Dr. Stuart Shapira, chief medical officer for 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," he stressed. "Parents don't have to wait if there's concern, they can go through their state's early intervention program and local school system, and get that evaluation for free."

The report also notes that about a third of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also had an intellectual disability, and young boys are almost five times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

Dr. Daisy Christensen, epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said overall there are fewer ASD cases among African-American and Hispanic children. However, she said that might be because they aren't being tested.

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

Dr. Shapira said minority children may not have the same access to health care to be evaluated. He said there could be language barriers and other problems as well.

"There also may be a lack of trust in the medical profession among individuals in these racial and ethnic groups, and fear that bringing attention to a child's symptoms could lead to greater stigma," he added.

The report found only 43 percent of children identified with ASD across the nation got evaluated by age three.

The full report can be read here.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN