Autism is becoming more common in America, according to new estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, some experts think the increase can be explained by a better diagnosing of little ones, especially minority kids.
The April 2018 report said about 1 in 59 children were identified with having autism in the United States in 2014. The new statistic is up from the former estimate of 1 in 68 kids in both 2010 and 2012. Although white children are still diagnosed with autism more often than black and Hispanic children, the report noted that the gap between white and minority children was smaller than it had been in previous years. CDC researchers said that the increased diagnosis in minority kids is probably a big reason for the statistical spike.
Based on a tracking system set up by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network in 11 states, researchers analyzed health and school records to see how many eight-year-olds met the criteria for autism, even if they hadn't been officially diagnosed yet. The total data ended up including about 300,000 children from Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
We should keep in mind that this is still a relatively small increase. It's also worth noting that psychologist Heather Cody Hazlett, PhD — who specializes in neurodevelopmental disorders — called the small jump "unsurprising" in an interview with The Chicago Tribune. She noted that there tends to be a lag between the moment parents of kids with autism first become concerned and when their children actually get diagnosed. Hazlett added that some doctors out there might not give a child younger than eight a diagnosis right away because they're trying to be "cautious and not alarmist."
Researchers are still trying to find new ways to diagnose kids with autism earlier, especially since most cases are identified by age eight. That said, it's encouraging to hear that medical professionals may be improving on spotting new cases of kids who have gone undiagnosed for far too long. Every parent of a child with autism deserves all the resources and information they can get as soon as possible.