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Thursday, December 2, 2021

One in Forty-Four

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the uncertainty surrounding estimates of autism prevalence

Matthew J. Maenner and colleagues have a report in MMWR titled "Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2018."  The abstract:
Description of System: The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network conducts active surveillance of ASD. This report focuses on the prevalence and characteristics of ASD among children aged 8 years in 2018 whose parents or guardians lived in 11 ADDM Network sites in the United States (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin). To ascertain ASD among children aged 8 years, ADDM Network staff review and abstract developmental evaluations and records from community medical and educational service providers. In 2018, children met the case definition if their records documented 1) an ASD diagnostic statement in an evaluation (diagnosis), 2) a special education classification of ASD (eligibility), or 3) an ASD International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code.

Results: For 2018, across all 11 ADDM sites, ASD prevalence per 1,000 children aged 8 years ranged from 16.5 in Missouri to 38.9 in California. The overall ASD prevalence was 23.0 per 1,000 (one in 44) children aged 8 years, and ASD was 4.2 times as prevalent among boys as among girls. Overall ASD prevalence was similar across racial and ethnic groups, except American Indian/Alaska Native children had higher ASD prevalence than non-Hispanic White (White) children (29.0 versus 21.2 per 1,000 children aged 8 years). At multiple sites, Hispanic children had lower ASD prevalence than White children (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, and Utah), and non-Hispanic Black (Black) children (Georgia and Minnesota). The associations between ASD prevalence and neighborhood-level median household income varied by site. Among the 5,058 children who met the ASD case definition, 75.8% had a diagnostic statement of ASD in an evaluation, 18.8% had an ASD special education classification or eligibility and no ASD diagnostic statement, and 5.4% had an ASD ICD code only. ASD prevalence per 1,000 children aged 8 years that was based exclusively on documented ASD diagnostic statements was 17.4 overall (range: 11.2 in Maryland to 29.9 in California). The median age of earliest known ASD diagnosis ranged from 36 months in California to 63 months in Minnesota.

Among the 3,007 children with ASD and data on cognitive ability, 35.2% were classified as having an intelligence quotient (IQ) score ≤70. The percentages of children with ASD with IQ scores ≤70 were 49.8%, 33.1%, and 29.7% among Black, Hispanic, and White children, respectively. Overall, children with ASD and IQ scores ≤70 had earlier median ages of ASD diagnosis than children with ASD and IQ scores >70 (44 versus 53 months).

Interpretation: In 2018, one in 44 children aged 8 years was estimated to have ASD, and prevalence and median age of identification varied widely across sites. Whereas overall ASD prevalence was similar by race and ethnicity, at certain sites Hispanic children were less likely to be identified as having ASD than White or Black children. The higher proportion of Black children compared with White and Hispanic children classified as having intellectual disability was consistent with previous findings.

Public Health Action: The variability in ASD prevalence and community ASD identification practices among children with different racial, ethnic, and geographical characteristics highlights the importance of research into the causes of that variability and strategies to provide equitable access to developmental evaluations and services. These findings also underscore the need for enhanced infrastructure for diagnostic, treatment, and support services to meet the needs of all children.