Autism Prevalence on the Rise: Exploring Trends, Disparities, and Pandemic Impact on Detection

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The occurrence of autism spectrum disorder in American kids increased between 2018 and 2020, sustaining a long-term pattern, as per a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Thursday. In 2020, it was estimated that one in 36 8-year-olds had autism, a rise from one in 44 in 2018. The prevalence was about 4 percent in boys and 1 percent in girls.

The increase does not necessarily imply that autism has become more widespread among children; it could be due to other factors, such as heightened awareness and screening. The increase was particularly notable among Black, Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander children. For the first time, autism was considerably more common among 8-year-olds in these groups than in white children, who have typically been more likely to receive autism diagnoses.

The researchers explained, “These patterns may indicate enhanced screening, awareness, and access to services among historically underserved groups.” Another study accompanying this one suggests that the pandemic could have interfered with or postponed the detection of autism in younger children. Following March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, autism evaluations and identifications significantly dropped and remained below pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2020.

During the pandemic, parents might have been less inclined to take their children for autism evaluations. Additionally, school closures and the shift to remote learning could have made it more difficult for educators to identify children who could have benefited from evaluations or services. Dr. Karen Remley, director of the C.D.C.’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, stated in a statement that “disruptions due to the pandemic in the timely evaluation of children, and delays in connecting children to the services and support they need, could have long-lasting effects.”

Both studies rely on data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, which has utilized health and education records to monitor autism in communities throughout the United States since 2000. The network has recorded an increase in autism prevalence since 2000 when roughly one in 150 8-year-olds were believed to have autism. The 2020 data is sourced from sites in 11 states and might not be representative of the entire nation.

Key Takeaways in a Nutshell – Health Newstrack

– The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in American children increased between 2018 and 2020, with one in 36 8-year-olds estimated to have autism in 2020, up from one in 44 in 2018.

– Autism prevalence increased significantly among Black, Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander children, potentially reflecting improved screening, awareness, and access to services in historically underserved groups.

– The COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted or delayed the detection of autism in younger children, with evaluations and detections dropping after March 2020 and remaining below prepandemic levels through the end of the year.

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