American autism rate rises to 1 in 40 children, study says

As parents are made increasingly aware of the signs and symptoms of autism, a new survey estimates that 1 in 40 children has autism spectrum disorder.

The study, which appeared Monday in the journal Pediatrics, relied on reports from parents and guardians of more than 50,000 children in the US aged 17 or under, and found the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder — characterized by a number of behavioral, developmental and psychological difficulties — at about 2.5 percent, or 1.5 million kids.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a report earlier this year that estimated a rate of 1 in 59 children. The difference, researchers say, may be attributed to the CDC’s narrower definition of autism.

“What is happening is that these studies use methods that are a bit more liberal and inclusive than the CDC’s methods,” says Thomas Frazier, chief science officer for the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks, in a statement to CNN. Authors of this new report, based on the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, also relied on parental reporting, which is not necessarily validated with official health records.

Nevertheless, this report confirms previous estimations that the disorder has been on the rise for decades, possibly due to the broadened criteria for what symptoms constitute autism.

While more than a quarter of the children included in the study were taking medication for related symptoms, and two-thirds had received some form of therapy, parents also reported difficulty gaining access to the health care their children needed.

“Though we’ve seen progress in recent years, this confirms what we know from our parents — that many children face unacceptable delays in getting a diagnostic evaluation, even after parents, teachers or other caregivers have recognized the signs of autism,” says Frazier.
Researchers hope this new report will highlight these health care access issues.

“Having prevalence estimates — even if there is some variation — helps us to advocate for improved screening, diagnosis, interventions and supports,” says Frazier.

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