The rate of autism in 8-year-old Utah children has increased by 30% in just a decade, according to a study of 11 communities across the nation, including Salt Lake City and surrounding counties, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The rate of autism in 8-year-olds across the state grew from 1 in 58 children in 2012 when the last survey was conducted in the city, to about 1 in 46 in 2018 as documented in the current study.
Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report contains the study as well as an accompanying report on prevalence of ASD in 4-year-olds.
Researchers at the University of Utah Health, including scientists from the University of Utah Health, attribute much of this increase to increased awareness of the disorder, improved diagnostic tools used to detect it, and better access to medical care.
“Utah’s autism prevalence is substantially higher now than when we last measured it,” says Deborah Bilder, M.D., a co-author of the study and a professor of child and adolescent psychosis and pediatrics at Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) at University of Utah Health. The CDC considers 8 year old the ideal age to assess ASD prevalence in the community. Bilder explains that children are more likely to exhibit symptoms of ASD once they reach the age of 8.
Utah’s legislation over the last decade has had a dramatic positive impact on access for children to autism diagnosis and treatment services. This is especially applicable to children of lower and middle incomes.
Deborah Bilder, M.D., co-author of the study
In Utah and other locations across the country, the proportion of Hispanic children with ASD was lower compared to White or Black children. This suggests that there could be disparities in ASD diagnosis depending on ethnicity. Amanda Bakian, Ph.D., co-author of this study as well as associate professor of psychiatry, HMHI and principal investigator of the Utah ADDM study.
ASD prevalence also rising throughout the U.S.
Overall the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, concluded that 1 in 44 children aged 8 years old living in 11 communities across the country had some kind of ASD in 2018, as compared to 1 in 54 in 2016. Utah was not a part of the 2016 assessment.
The current study found that the estimates varied widely based on location, with one in sixty children in Missouri and one in 26 in California. Researchers suspect that these differences may be due to geographic variations in early detection and evaluation, diagnostic practices and other variations in the documentation of ASD symptoms.
Early detection and early treatment are key to treating ASD
The scientists conclude that practices that provide equitable access to early ASD identification and services are a vital step forward.
Bilder states that early diagnosis and treatment can enhance children’s ability learn, engage with other people and build independence.
Bakian says, “That’s why these research are so vital.” “They don’t just help us get a better idea of the increasing incidence of autism, but they aid in improving policies and services as well as research directed toward helping children and families affected by autism.”
In addition to Salt Lake County, Davis and Tooele Counties were included in the Utah portion of the study. Arizona, Arkansas and California were also included in the study. While the study covered the country The researchers emphasize that their findings are an overview of ASD in these communities and not a comprehensive estimate of the prevalence of autism in the United States.
Maenner M.J., and. (2021). Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children aged 8 Years -The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network. 11 Sites, United States. 2018. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss7011a1.
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