A member of OAR’s Scientific Council, Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH, has a passion for education and advocacy and has dedicated her career to ensuring that individuals with autism are fully included in society. As Easter Seals National Director of Autism Services, Dr. Wright leads autism programs for Easter Seals, one of the nation’s largest providers of services for individuals with autism across the life span. She also currently serves on the Executive Committee for the Friends of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Dr. Wright is well known as a presenter and has been invited to deliver presentations and conduct training across the United States and internationally.
On March 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the new prevalence data indicating that about 1 in 88 children in the United States has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (CDC, 2012).
The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network has monitored the number of 8-year-old children with ASDs living in diverse communities, first reporting their findings in 2007. The estimated prevalence of ASDs increased 78 percent from the first report in 2007 and 23 percent from the last report published in 2010.
The data released in March assessed children who were age 8 in 2008. More children are being identified with autism; more individuals living with autism are in need of effective treatment.
What Does OAR Have to Do with It?
Two of the key findings of the report are of particular interest to OAR’s mission of applied research. These findings address the age of diagnosis and the identification of Hispanic and black children. Early recognition and enrollment into quality early intervention programs promotes positive outcomes for children with autism (Zachor, Ben-Itzchak, Rabinovich, & Lahat, 2007).
The median age of diagnosis reported for children with Autistic Disorder was 48 months, ASD/PDD-NOS 53 months and Asperger Disorder 75 months. ASDs can be accurately diagnosed at 24 months (Chawarska, Klin, Paul, & Volkmar, 2007). This late age of diagnosis for many children raises concerns. Research is needed to assess how this age of diagnosis can be decreased.
The prevalence data also documented the largest prevalence increases from the first release in 2007 to the 2012 publication among black, non-Hispanic children (91 percent increase) and Hispanic children (110 percent increase) compared to white non-Hispanic children (70 percent increase). The CDC suspects that better screening and diagnosis address some of the increase for these populations. Addressing the needs of ethnic minority populations can be seen as a positive.
Low rates of autism in the Hispanic population have been a public health concern. A lower rate of diagnosis in the Hispanic community may be related to under-diagnosis (Palmer, Walker, Mandell, Davies & Miller, 2010). There is also interest in determining if perhaps the Hispanic population has protective factors related to autism. The current prevalence data may indicate that ethnic under-diagnosis was a factor. Race differences in age of diagnosis have also been reported (Mandell, Listerud, Levy, & Pinto-Martin, 2002).
Answering the Questions of Daily Living
Addressing health disparities in diagnosis and access to treatment is important to OAR. This recent prevalence report indicates that addressing these health disparities is an area that needs continued focus.
The CDC prevalence data reports on the rate of autism among 8 year olds. The first data were published in 2007 providing information about 8 year olds with autism in 2002 (CDC, 2007). Those first 8 year olds assessed are now 18. The prevalence data among that population was 1:150. OAR has funded several studies assessing effective treatment and outcomes for adults living with autism. The prevalence data emphasize need for continued research into meeting the needs of adults with autism. The 8 year olds assessed in the prevalence studies grow up to be adults living with autism.
One of the primary questions asked when prevalence increases is “why?” Indeed there are many organizations researching the etiology of autism. The attempt to answer “why” is a worthy research endeavor.
OAR’s mission of applied research attempts to answer questions of daily concern for those living with autism. Decreasing age of diagnosis and addressing disparities in diagnosis in the Hispanic and black populations are worthy endeavors highlighted by the new prevalence data. In addition, the growing prevalence indicates that there are more adults living with autism. More people living with autism are in need of a high quality life. Through applied research OAR can support those living with autism today to achieve the highest degree of success.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2012). Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders–Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report; Vol. 61(3).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, Six Sites, United States, 2002. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Surveill Summ; 56.
Chawarska, K., Klin, A., Paul, R., & Volkmar, F. (2007). Autism spectrum disorder in the second year: change and stability in syndrome expression. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 48(2), 128-138
Mandell, D.S., Listerud, J. Levy S. E., Pinto-Martin, J.A. (2002), Race differences in the age of diagnosis among Medicaid eligible children with autism. Journal of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41(12), 1447-1453.
Palmer, RF, Walker, T., Mandell, D., Bayles, B., Miller, C.S. (2010). Explaining low rates of autism among Hispanic schoolchildren in Texas. American Journal of Public Health, Jul: 100(7), 1156-57.
Zachor, D. A., Ben-Itzchak, E., Rabinovich, A. L., & Lahat, E. (2007). Change in autism core symptoms with intervention. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1, 304-317.