Autism prevalence increasing in Wisconsin, says latest CDC report

CDC Graphic of Autism in Wisconsin
An estimated 1 in 68 school-aged children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a CDC report published last week.

April 07, 2016

An estimated 1 in 68 school-aged children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a CDC report published last week.

This report shows essentially no change in national ASD prevalence from the previous report released in 2014. It is too soon to know whether ASD prevalence in the United States might be starting to stabilize. The CDC will continue tracking ASD prevalence to better understand changes over time.

Maureen S. Durkin, PhD
Maureen S. Durkin,

In Wisconsin, however, where ASD prevalence has consistently been lower than the national rate, there has been a change. “We found that the prevalence of ASD in Wisconsin increased by 16% between 2010 and 2012, and now estimate that 1 in 92 eight-year-old children have an ASD,” said Maureen Durkin, a professor of population health sciences and of pediatrics, and a Waisman Center researcher. “These findings point to the increasing need for therapies, special education and other supports for individuals with ASD and their families,” said Durkin.

The data come from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network–-a tracking system that provides estimates of the prevalence and characteristics of ASD among eight-year-old children in 11 communities within Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Durkin is the principal investigator of the Wisconsin Surveillance of Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities System (WISADDS), one of the 11 ADDM Network sites. Findings from WISADDS contributed the Wisconsin data used in the CDC report. The data in the latest report are for 2012 while the data in the previous report were from 2010.

Although the average ASD prevalence of the 11 ADDM Network sites combined did not change between 2010 and 2012, ASD prevalence still varied widely between the 11 communities. Differences were seen by geographic region and between sites with different access to data resources.

“What we know for sure is that there are many children living with autism who need services and support, now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” said Stuart K. Shapira, chief medical officer for CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

The new report also underscores where efforts and resources can be directed to better support children and families with ASD. Black and Hispanic children continue to be less likely to be identified with ASD than white children. In addition, black and Hispanic children receive developmental evaluations later than white children.

“Targeted strategies are needed to identify and address barriers in order to lower the age at which black and Hispanic children are evaluated, diagnosed, and connected to the services they need,” said Daisy Christensen, a CDC epidemiologist and lead author of the ADDM Network report.

The report also shows that, overall, less than half (43%) of children identified with ASD receive developmental evaluations by age three. This suggests that many children may not be getting identified as early as they could be.

“The most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with ASD is early identification,” said Shapira. “Parents, childcare professionals, and doctors can monitor each child’s development and act right away on any developmental concerns. It’s important to remember that children can be connected to services even before an official diagnosis is made.”

Click here to view the Wisconsin portion of the CDC autism report.