ASAN Statement on Updated Autism Diagnosis Numbers

Today, the Centers for Disease Control released the Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Monitoring (ADDM) Network report. This report estimates how many autistic 8 year olds there are in certain areas of the country. The report shows that better recognition of autism and continued efforts to reduce racial and gender disparities have caused rates of diagnosis to continue to rise. There is still more work to do to address the remaining disparities in diagnosis, and more work to do to ensure autistic people in all communities receive the support we need.

The report released today uses data gathered in 2018. This research reviewed records of 8-year-old children in 11 communities across the United States. The report released today shows that the rate of autism diagnosis has increased to 1 in 44 children, or 2.3 percent of the children surveyed. This is an increase from earlier reports, which estimated that 1 in 54 children were diagnosed with autism.

ASAN is not surprised to see the diagnosis rate increase. We believe this increase reflects better recognition and diagnosis of autism across the U.S. We know that many disparities in diagnosis have become smaller, and we know that children were evaluated earlier in some places and later in others. We expect that diagnosis rates will continue to rise as we work to address diagnostic disparities and improve access to diagnosis and support. 

Unfortunately, the report shows that while some improvements have been made, diagnostic disparities continue to be a major issue for autistic people of marginalized races, ethnicities, and genders. The report showed that Hispanic children were less likely to be diagnosed than white children. Black children were more likely to also be diagnosed with an intellectual disability compared to white or Hispanic children, reflecting a longstanding history of racism in how Black children with disabilities are labelled. Children assigned female at birth were less likely to be diagnosed than children assigned male at birth. Researchers, clinicians, and policymakers must work to end these disparities and remove bias from the diagnostic process.

The results of this report also make clear the need for improved study of rates of autism diagnosis in adults. While improvements in early diagnosis are important, substantial disparities remain. Autistics of color and those who are assigned female at birth are less likely to receive early diagnoses, meaning that a survey of 8-year-olds gives an incomplete picture of the autistic community. Surveying adults can provide a clearer picture of how frequently early diagnoses are missed, demonstrate the need for adult services, and help to correct misconceptions by demonstrating that autism is just as common among adults as children.

Autism is not a bad thing, and autistic people, of all races, genders, and ages have always been here. The ADDM report represents an encouraging sign that our diagnosis practices are catching up to that reality. This is good news for the many autistic people who have been overlooked in the past, and can now get the recognition and support they need.

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!