The prevalence of 8-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the U.S. is now 1 in 36, according to a new announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new findings are higher than the previous 2018 estimate that found a prevalence of 1 in 44.
The data come from 11 U.S. communities in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, including a site in Tennessee led by Zachary Warren, Ph.D., director of the Division of Developmental Medicine and executive director of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center TRIAD.
A second report on 4-year-old children in the same 11 communities was released and highlights the impact of COVID-19, showing disruptions in progress in early autism detection. In the early months of the pandemic, 4-year-old children were less likely to have an evaluation or be identified with ASD than 8-year-old children when they were the same age. This coincides with the interruptions in childcare and healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ASD prevalence in Tennessee
Warren says the national and Tennessee-specific data continue to highlight the need for innovative systems of care for ASD screening, diagnosis, and treatment.
“We’re certainly doing a better job picking up on children at earlier ages and for traditionally underserved groups,” said Warren. “We still have a long way to go to make meaningful early detection and action a reality for all families. I do think the data provide reassurance that we can build systems that work better for our children and families, but we need to double down on our efforts to see the type of progress we’d like to on a population level. At almost 3 percent of our population, we must build systems capable of serving that 3 percent.”
To learn more about Tennessee ADDM findings and how TRIAD addresses the needs of Tennessee children with ASD and their families, visit the ASD in TN data page.
CDC Report snapshots on demographics and community differences in autism prevalence
ASD prevalence among Asian, Black, and Hispanic children was at least 30 percent higher in 2020 than 2018, and ASD prevalence among White children was 14.6 percent higher than in 2018. For the first time, the percentage of 8-year-old Asian or Pacific Islander (3.3 percent) Hispanic (3.2 percent), and Black (2.9 percent) children identified with autism was higher than among 8-year-old White children (2.4 percent). This is the opposite of racial and ethnic differences observed in previous ADDM reports for 8-year-olds. These shifts may reflect improved screening, awareness, and access to services among historically underserved groups.
Additionally, disparities for co-occurring intellectual disability have persisted. A higher percentage of Black children with autism was identified with intellectual disability compared to White, Hispanic, or Asian or Pacific Islander children with autism. These differences could relate in part to access to services that diagnose and support children with autism.
Overall, autism prevalence within the ADDM sites was nearly four times higher for boys than girls. Still, this is the first ADDM report in which the prevalence of autism among 8-year-old girls has exceeded 1 percent.
Autism prevalence in the 11 ADDM communities ranged from 1 in 43 children in Maryland (2.3 percent) to 1 in 22 in California (4.5 percent). These variations could be due to how communities are identifying children with autism. The variability across ADDM Network sites offers an opportunity to compare local policies and models for delivering diagnostic and intervention services that could enhance autism identification and provide more comprehensive support to people with autism.
For more details on how this information was collected, frequently asked questions, and how this information can be useful to families and providers, see the 2023 Community Report on Autism.