ASAN Statement on 2018 CDC Prevalence Data

stack of binders

Today, the Centers for Disease Control released the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network report, which estimates the prevalence of autism in certain areas. The results indicate that better recognition of autism, and an encouraging reduction of racial and gender disparities in diagnosis, have caused rates of diagnosis to rise slightly in the communities surveyed. There is more work to do to address the diagnostic disparities that remain, and to ensure that autistic people in all communities receive the supports we need.

The report released today shows that the rate of autism diagnoses in the survey’s sample has increased to 1 in 59 children, or about 1.7% of the survey’s population. This new data is based on analysis of research done in 2014, which reviewed the records of 8-year-old children in 11 communities across the United States. This is consistent with previous studies showing that autistic people make up 1-3% of the population. It is also consistent with 2014’s National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which found an estimated autism prevalence of 2.24% for that same year. The ADDM Network study is meant to be a deep dive look at autism diagnoses in a few specific communities, rather than a nationally representative sample – it is worth keeping in mind that the CDC does not intend the report as an estimate of autism prevalence in the general population.

As in previous years, the CDC found that better identification of autistic people contributed to an increased rate of diagnosis in the ADDM Network communities. In particular, the CDC attributes much of the increase found in this report to narrowing racial disparities in autism diagnosis. In the previous ADDM Network report, white children were about 20% more likely than black children, and 50% likelier than latinx children, to be diagnosed as autistic. The data released today shows that those disparities have been cut in half, to 7% and 22% respectively. The disparity in diagnosis between boys and girls was also reduced, from from 4.5:1 in the previous study to 4:1 in the most recent report.

While this progress is encouraging, there is still much work to be done. For instance, we recognize that clinicians are more likely to mistake autism for behavioral issues in children of color, particularly black and latino boys. These misconceptions can push children of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. Autistic women and girls also remain shockingly underdiagnosed, leaving many without needed services and supports. We must keep working to ensure equitable access to culturally- and gender-competent diagnosis. We expect that rates of diagnosis will continue to rise until diagnostic processes can accurately identify autistic people from all communities.

The findings of today’s report also underscore the need for a study on the prevalence of autism among adults. Autistic people of color, and autistic women and girls, are more likely to have a later diagnosis, so even as the disparities narrow, a survey of of 8-year-olds will not give us a complete picture. Many autistic people need access to long term supports and services into adulthood, and surveying autistic adults would help us better provide those services. It would also counter myths and help to show that autism is as common among adults as among children.

Autism is not a bad thing, and autistic people—of all ages, races, and genders—have always been here. The CDC’s research shows that our data is beginning to catch up to that fact. We encourage researchers, advocates, and the general public to join us in using this new data to ensure that all autistic people are accepted, included, and supported in our communities. Acceptance is an action – we invite you to take it with us.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement with regard to autism. ASAN believes that the goal of autism advocacy should be a world in which autistic people enjoy equal access, rights, and opportunities. We work to empower autistic people across the world to take control of our own lives and the future of our common community, and seek to organize the autistic community to ensure our voices are heard in the national conversation about us. Nothing About Us, Without Us!

Media contact:

Zoe Gross
Director of Operations
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
(202) 480-2335