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Autism Prevalence Rates Continue to Rise: The CDC and States Announce New Numbers

Autism and Mental Health

Every couple of years the prevalence rates for Autism are released and we parents cringe. As we last heard in 2016, the CDC had reported the prevalence rates at 1 in 68. As these reports are released on a biannual basis, today, April 26, 2018, we got news that the rate has once again rose. We now have a prevalence rate of 1 in 59 school aged children diagnosed with Autism. This data is based on monitoring that the Centers for Disease Control does in 11 communities. This new report reiterates a long-standing pattern- The rate of Autism diagnoses is continuing to increase.


Researchers from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) network were brought together and asked to “analyze the medical and school records of more than 300,000 children who were 8-years-old in 2014.” They then “confirmed diagnoses of Autism using guidelines established by the current fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as well as the guidelines of the previous edition.” Their conclusion that the numbers have risen to 1 in 59 indicates that more resources are needed, more coverage from insurance companies is required and more acceptance from the general public is a necessity. As is, most parents wait up near one solid year, or more, for an initial appointment to have their child evaluated for Autism.

It goes deeper than just one national number though, as states keep their own prevalence numbers. Per reports, on a state by state level-New Jersey’s rate was the highest with 1 in every 34 children. While reports say that Arkansas had the lowest rate at 1 in every 77 children. The other states included in the research were Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The Autism Society of North Carolina, who has worked for up near “50 years to make their state a leader among Autism treatment and diagnosis,” have released their own numbers today. Per their press release, the prevalence rate in North Carolina is up from the national rate, sitting at 1 in 57 school aged children in their state diagnosed with Autism. It is reported that the number is up from their previous prevalence number of 1 in 59 in 2016. If you are doing the Math, that is a full 21 percent increase in two years in North Carolina’s public schools. As reported, this data comes from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. So, what do these numbers mean?

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If you were to ask Tracey Sheriff, CEO of the Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC), it means that other states are simply "catching up to North Carolina in their treatments and diagnosis of Autism as far as public awareness of the signs and symptoms." In other words, our efforts at spreading the awareness are working. He is also quoted as saying that, “for young children who are newly diagnosed, we need more early-intervention programs. As they grow up, children need teachers who are trained in Autism and schools that provide opportunities to learn job and independent-living skills. Adults on the spectrum need employment and housing supports.” Going right back to the need for more resources for families affected by Autism.

Estimated rates of Autism have increased steadily over the decades with resources becoming harder and harder to obtain. This increase includes data collected since the CDC first began comprehensively tracking Autism in 2000. It is reported that, “after the 2016 report showed no significant jump from 2010 to 2012, officials hoped that rates had stabilized.” These new numbers change things though. Walter Zahorodny, an associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School who led the New Jersey ADDM team, said in a statement that, “It remains to be seen at what point ASD rates will plateau.”

So why are the numbers rising? We may never have a cure or a definitive cause in some cases but what we do know is it’s unlikely that the rise of Autism cases can be associated with better diagnosing alone. Other risk factors being looked into right now are older parents, genetic mutations, and environmental toxins; but, as far as them being responsible for this increase-that is still a mystery. New Jersey having such notorious pollution issues and their prevalence numbers being so high is very interesting to me though.

The New Jersey team is quoted as saying, “These are true influences that are exerting an effect, but they are not enough to explain the high rate of Autism prevalence. There are still undefined environmental risks which contribute to this significant increase. Some factors could affect a child in its development in utero or related to birth complications or to the newborn period. We need more research into non-genetic triggers for Autism.”

Whether we ever have an answer or not is yet to be seen; whether the rates plateau any time soon is yet to be seen as well. They are rising though, that can’t be denied. One of these days you are going to have a 50/50 shot at having a child diagnosed with Autism. Believe me, you don’t want to wait until that moment to learn about it. Immerse yourself in knowledge about Autism now. After all, with the numbers sitting at 1 in 59 now, chances are your life will be touched by Autism sometime in the future, whether that influence is from inside your family or outside. As you learn keep the famous words of Albert Einstein in mind though, ““Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”