Prevalence and Treatment Patterns of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States, 2016

JAMA Pediatr. 2019 Feb 1;173(2):153-159. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.4208.


Importance: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. Previous surveys have reported a steady increase in ASD prevalence in US children over the past decades. Several behavioral therapies and medications have been developed to treat the symptoms of ASD; however, little is known about the current status of treatment usage for children diagnosed as having ASD.

Objective: To estimate the prevalence and treatment patterns of ASD among US children using nationally representative data.

Design, setting, and participants: This study used data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, a nationwide, population-based, cross-sectional survey. We included 43 032 children aged 3 to 17 years. Data were collected through questionnaires completed by a parent or guardian. Data were analyzed from February 2018 to March 2018.

Main outcomes and measures: Outcome variables included ASD diagnosed by a physician or health professional and the use of behavioral treatment or medication treatment among children with ASD.

Results: Of the 43 032 included participants, 22 072 (51.3%) were male, and the mean (SD) age was 10.7 (4.4) years. The weighted prevalence of ever-diagnosed ASD and current ASD were 2.79% (95% CI, 2.46-3.12) and 2.50% (95% CI, 2.21-2.79), respectively. The state-level prevalence of ever-diagnosed ASD varied from 1.54% (95% CI, 0.60-2.48) in Texas to 4.88% (95% CI, 2.72-7.05) in Florida. Nationally, about 70% of children with current ASD (70.5%; 95% CI, 65.1-75.8) were treated; 43.3% (95% CI, 37.4-49.2) received behavioral treatment only, 6.9% (95% CI, 3.7-10.1) received medication treatment only, and 20.3% (95% CI, 16.5-24.1) received both behavioral and medication treatments. The remaining 29.5% (95% CI, 24.2-34.9) of children with current ASD did not receive either behavioral or medication treatment.

Conclusions and relevance: This study showed that the prevalence of ASD in the United States was relatively high, and it varied substantially across US states. Almost 30% of US children with ASD did not receive behavioral or medication treatment, which calls for a critical need to understand and address the barriers for those children to receive appropriate treatments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Central Nervous System Agents / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • United States


  • Central Nervous System Agents