About one in 59 children aged 8 years in the CDC's Autism and Developmental Disability Network was identified as having autism in 2014, according to recently released data.
The 2014 data were based on school and medical records of 263,775 children in 11 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
The new estimate represents a 15% increase from two years prior and a 150% increase since 2000.
"So since 2000, we've funded between six and 14 sites to use the CDC established methodology to estimate the prevalence and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder in diverse communities throughout the USA", she said.
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Researchers looked at 8-year-olds in 11 communities across the U.S.to calculate the results. "And these are diverse communities so that we can look at autism prevalence and characteristics in a number of different groups defined by race/ethnicity or by socioeconomic status". "And those who work with or on behalf of children can join forces to ensure that all children with autism get identified and connected to the services they need as early as possible", said Dr. Shapira in the CDC release.
The study puts the national rate of autism at 1.7 percent of the childhood population, compared to 2.9 percent for New Jersey.
While the increase marks the highest rate of autism ever recorded by the ADDM, that doesn't necessarily mean that more children have autism now than in years past. Similarly, there were documented developmental concerns in about 85 percent of children later diagnosed with autism by the time they were 3, but only 42 percent had received a developmental evaluation at that point.
Also, the definition of autism has changed through the decades.
There are no obvious environmental causes for the rising rates, and without data on adults, it remains unclear whether more people have autism, or the condition has always been this common, just unrecognized or called by other names, he said.
"It remains a priority to diagnose autism earlier and begin intervention sooner, especially given recent research suggesting that higher intensity and duration of early developmental therapy for children with autism is associated with significant improvements in outcomes", he said.
"This ongoing experience helps me identify with families who have been told or observed that their child's development is not occurring as expected". In 2012, autism prevalence among white kids was 20% higher than black kids and 50% higher than Latino children.
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Some of the increase in autism prevalence could be related to better identification among minority children, the CDC said. They also were not getting the necessary services to develop to their fullest potential.
However, researchers don't believe there's anything wrong with kids in New Jersey.
He noted that the male to female ratio decreased in the new report.
"Certainly, we're seeing a closing of disparities".
"I would have hoped that we could have, by now, identified some of the real factors at play", he said. "Communities are doing a better job of identifying children and connecting them to services".
Those are a few of the many signs detailed in the latest CDC report. Act Early program, which offers "free resources for parents to monitor their child's developmental milestones".
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