Quick Take: CDC Report Says U.S. Autism Rate Unchanged Since Last Year

“It is a step forward, it is reassuring. I think even if that 1.5 percent prevalence rate holds, we still have to recognize that still means 5 million individuals in the country are living with autism and the annual costs of autism are $250 billion, so it’s still a significant public health challenge.” – Craig Newschaffer, PhD, director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.

Newschaffer Fox29
Newschaffer during his FOX29 appearance. Screenshot from WTXF-PHI (FOX29) broadcast.

In their biennial report released Thursday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that the prevalence rate of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States remained at 1 in 68, roughly 1.5 percent. This rate is unchanged from the report two years ago, the first time in a decade that numbers have plateaued.

In an appearance on “Good Day Philadelphia” on WTXF-PHI (FOX29) Friday morning, Newschaffer, who also serves as a professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health, discussed the encouraging news but cautioned that more work needs to be done.

“I think we have to do our best to do everything we can to recognize the signs and symptoms of autism as early as possible,” he said. “The data did show that of these children who we know had autism by age eight, only 40 percent of them had their first comprehensive evaluation before age three. We can do much better than that.”

Part of the reason why numbers may be stabilizing, according to experts, is the prevalence and refinement of autism screening. Early screening is one of the main thrusts of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, with research in that area headed up by Diana Robins, PhD.

However, the proportion of autism diagnoses from an evaluation before a child is two-and-a-half years old remained flat since the last report was issued and has only improved “very little since 2006,” according to Newschaffer.

During his “Good Day” appearance, Newschaffer urged parents who might have concerns about their children to try to connect to organizations who offer services such as early assessments. One example is ChildLink in Philadelphia, but such help is not limited to the city.

“There are organizations in every surrounding county and in New Jersey,” Newschaffer said.

Any media interested in talking to Newschaffer can contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or fmo26@drexel.edu.

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