The rate of autism among American children more than doubled throughout the 2000s — but according to the latest analysis from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rise in diagnoses may finally be leveling off.
And while the new findings may help counter claims that half of all children in the United States will be autistic within a decade, it’s too soon to say whether the rate has reached a plateau, CDC officials cautioned.
Prior to 2010, the prevalence of ASD had climbed rapidly, sparking a heated debate within the medical community as to the reasons behind the rise.
Parents and health care professionals are increasingly aware of the signs of autism, leading to higher rates of diagnosis. But some have blamed exposure to pesticides, household chemicals, or other environmental toxins for the soaring incidence of the neurological disorder. (Many parent groups also still cling to the now-disproven theory that vaccines cause autism.)
Even though the overall rate remained stable between 2010 and 2012, the two most recent years for which data are available, the CDC report notes that there are still disparities in diagnoses when the data are broken down by race and gender.
The data come from a CDC tracking system that monitors the educational and medical records of 8-year-old children in 11 communities across the United States. Other findings from the report:
- The prevalence of ASD was highest in New Jersey, where about 1 in every 41 school-aged children has been diagnosed with the condition.
- Autism is much more common among young boys than among young girls. Approximately 1 in 42 boys were diagnosed with ASD, compared to 1 in 189 girls.
- White children have higher rates of autism than black children. One in 64 non-Hispanic whites were diagnosed with ASD, compared to 1 in 76 non-Hispanic blacks.