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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released its newest report from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, an ongoing surveillance system that provides estimates on the prevalence of autism.

What the Report Showed

According to the findings from the ADDM network, which were based on data reported from 11 sites, the overall prevalence of autism is 16.8 per 1000 children 8 years of age in the surveillance year of 2014. Specifically these findings indicate:

  • Autism now affects 1 in 59 children in the U.S.
  • Estimates ranged from 1 in 77 in Arkansas to 1 in 34 in New Jersey
  • Of the 1 in 59 diagnosed with autism, over half are classified as having an intellectual disability or borderline intellectual disability
  • With an increase of 150% since 2000, CDC notes in its report that autism is an urgent public health concern

Understanding the Increase

Some experts surmise that the cause of the increase in prevalence, up from 1 in 5,000 in 1975, is likely due to better identification; however, there is no evidence to support this claim. Further, the 56% of those with autism who are classified as having an intellectual disability or borderline intellectual disability indicates that the majority of those with autism will likely face significant challenges for which our nation is not prepared.

Though valid on a small level, the ongoing explanation of better identification, coupled with the lack of qualitative data that includes common co-occurring medical conditions in those diagnosed with autism, continues to limit and stall our understanding of how many individuals will need substantial, ongoing care into their adult years, and how best to plan and prepare for this inevitable influx.

Looking Ahead

At the National Autism Association, we represent those with autism who face significant communication challenges, intellectual disabilities, aggressive and high-risk behaviors, and comorbid medical conditions that threaten their daily lives.

We believe that resting on unproven explanations of better identification denies the urgency needed to create real strategies aimed at helping these individuals and families whose challenges impact both life expectancy and quality of life. We believe it stalls progress in addressing high-risk behaviors, including those too severe for public view. It also downplays the critical need for research into co-occuring medical conditions, which, if properly treated, could ease some of the most difficult struggles individuals and families face.

We are grateful to our government and health agencies that have both acknowledged and helped address issues like elopement in our community. We implore these same agencies to dig deeper to recognize the significant challenges faced by many in our community. Autism prevalence is still on the rise and remains an urgent public health concern in need of a comprehensive federal plan.