Problem/condition: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities characterized by atypical development in socialization, communication, and behavior. ASDs typically are apparent before age 3 years, with associated impairments affecting multiple areas of a person's life. Because no biologic marker exists for ASDs, identification is made by professionals who evaluate a child's developmental progress to identify the presence of developmental disorders.
Reporting period: 2006.
Methods: Earlier surveillance efforts indicated that age 8 years is a reasonable index age at which to monitor peak prevalence. The identified prevalence of ASDs in U.S. children aged 8 years was estimated through a systematic retrospective review of evaluation records in multiple sites participating in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Data were collected from existing records in 11 ADDM Network sites (areas of Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wisconsin) for 2006. To analyze changes in identified ASD prevalence, CDC compared the 2006 data with data collected from 10 sites (all sites noted above except Florida) in 2002. Children aged 8 years with a notation of an ASD or descriptions consistent with an ASD were identified through screening and abstraction of existing health and education records containing professional assessments of the child's developmental progress at health-care or education facilities. Children aged 8 years whose parent(s) or legal guardian(s) resided in the respective areas in 2006 met the case definition for an ASD if their records documented behaviors consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, text revision (DSM-IV-TR) criteria for autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder--not otherwise specified (PDD NOS), or Asperger disorder. Presence of an identified ASD was determined through a review of data abstracted from developmental evaluation records by trained clinician reviewers.
Results: For the 2006 surveillance year, 2,757 (0.9%) of 308,038 [corrected] children aged 8 years residing in the 11 ADDM sites were identified as having an ASD, indicating an overall average prevalence of 9.0 per 1,000 population (95% confidence interval [CI] = 8.6--9.3). ASD prevalence per 1,000 children aged 8 years ranged from 4.2 in Florida to 12.1 in Arizona and Missouri, with prevalence for the majority of sites ranging between 7.6 and 10.4. For 2006, ASD prevalence was significantly lower in Florida (p<0.001) and Alabama (p<0.05) and higher in Arizona and Missouri (p<0.05) than in all other sites. The ratio of males to females ranged from 3.2:1 in Alabama to 7.6:1 in Florida. ASD prevalence varied by type of ascertainment source, with higher average prevalence in sites with access to health and education records (10.0) compared with sites with health records only (7.5). Although parental or professional concerns regarding development before age 36 months were noted in the evaluation records of the majority of children who were identified as having an ASD, the median age of earliest documented ASD diagnosis was much later (range: 41 months [Florida]-60 months [Colorado]). Of 10 sites that collected data for both the 2002 and 2006 surveillance years, nine observed an increase in ASD prevalence (range: 27%-95% increase; p<0.01), with increases among males in all sites and among females in four of 11 sites, and variation among other subgroups.
Interpretation: In 2006, on average, approximately 1% or one child in every 110 in the 11 ADDM sites was classified as having an ASD (approximate range: 1:80-1:240 children [males: 1:70; females: 1:315]). The average prevalence of ASDs identified among children aged 8 years increased 57% in 10 sites from the 2002 to the 2006 ADDM surveillance year. Although improved ascertainment accounts for some of the prevalence increases documented in the ADDM sites, a true increase in the risk for children to develop ASD symptoms cannot be ruled out. On average, although delays in identification persisted, ASDs were being diagnosed by community professionals at earlier ages in 2006 than in 2002.
Public health actions: These results indicate an increased prevalence of identified ASDs among U.S. children aged 8 years and underscore the need to regard ASDs as an urgent public health concern. Continued monitoring is needed to document and understand changes over time, including the multiple ascertainment and potential risk factors likely to be contributing. Research is needed to ascertain the factors that put certain persons at risk, and concerted efforts are essential to provide support for persons with ASDs, their families, and communities to improve long-term outcome.