The Autistic Self Advocacy Network issued the following statement about the Center for Disease Control’s new Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) prevalence data on November 19, 2015.
The latest CDC numbers reflect better understanding and diagnosis of autism. The data remains in line with studies showing that autistic people are about 1% to 3% of the population, with these most recent numbers placing autistic people as 2.24% of the population. Despite the increase in diagnostic rates, autism remains under-diagnosed in people of color, as well as women and girls. Until the diagnostic process accurately identifies autistics from all communities, we expect these reported numbers to continue to rise.
The increase in diagnostic rates and prevalence is due to a changed method of surveying parents, as well as better diagnostic screening tools. The ASD survey item, previously asked after “other developmental delays” and phrased as “autism/autism spectrum disorder,” became a question on its own. The wording also changed to “Autism, Asperger’s disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.” As a result of these changes, the latest CDC data estimates that 1 out of every 45 children is on the autism spectrum.
While surveillance and diagnostic processes are improving, significant diagnostic gaps remain. The data indicates that that the majority of children diagnosed were “male” (75%) or “non-Hispanic white” (59.9%). In 2014, white children were approximately 46% more likely to be identified with ASD than black children, and were almost 50% more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children. The current report states that “none of these differences were statistically significant between years.” In addition, children of color and women and girls who receive an autism diagnosis are more likely to be diagnosed later, and more likely to be diagnosed with additional disabilities. This indicates that autism has continually gone undiagnosed in people of color and in women and girls. As in previous years, the CDC survey did not survey autistic adults.
ASAN calls for concerted effort on the part of health care providers, researchers, state and local governments, and federal agencies to address the persistent disparities in access to diagnosis and services for people of color, women and girls, and other underserved groups. All autistic people deserve equal access to accurate, timely, and culturally competent diagnosis and high-quality services; such access cannot be dependent on race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, income, or language. In addition, we urge the CDC to follow the lead of countries such as the UK and survey autistic adults. Such surveys show that the same percentage of adults and children are on the autism spectrum, and can help to address public misunderstandings and anxiety over new prevalence data.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization run by and for Autistic people. ASAN’s supporters include Autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, and non-autistic family members, professionals, educators and friends. Its activities include public policy advocacy, community engagement to encourage inclusion and respect for neurodiversity, leadership trainings, cross-disability advocacy, and the development of Autistic cultural activities.
Deputy Executive Director
Autistic Self Advocacy Network