According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) among American children is higher than previously thought—and it could mean more kids will be getting the help they need sooner.
Back in April the CDC released its most recent estimate of ASD rates among American kids, estimating that 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with ASD. This week, the AAP released its own report, which put the rate at 1 in 40.
There are a couple likely reasons for the discrepancy between the two studies' findings: The CDC's looked a more limited age range than the AAP's (which counted kids between 3 and 17), and it covered fewer communities.
The studies had different methodology, but some experts say the bottom line is the same:
"I think that the take-home message isn't necessarily new but is important: autism spectrum disorder is a common condition that merits screening and early treatment," said Dr. Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, a psychiatry researcher at Columbia University in New York City (who wasn't involved in the study) told Reuters.
Thomas Frazier, the chief science officer at Autism Speaks, told CNN that he wasn't surprised by the findings, and that the numbers don't suggest that the number of American children on the spectrum is growing rapidly. Instead, he says, the studies indicate that analysis methods have become "more liberal and inclusive."
He believes the CDC's numbers are "probably a bit conservative," and notes that AAP's findings are "generally consistent with previous parent surveys and other direct prevalence studies where researchers directly screen for and attempt to identify autism."
According to Frazier, "early, intensive developmental and behavioral interventions are effective," in helping kids on the spectrum, and the first step to getting those treatments is getting a diagnosis. The numbers in the AAP's study (self-reported by parents) suggest a lot of parents know that their child is dealing with ASD, but also that parents aren't always able to access appropriate care.
The findings indicate parents of children with ASD have a harder time getting help and services than parents of kids with those with Down syndrome or ADHD.
"Though we've seen progress in recent years, this confirms what we know from our parents -- that many children face unacceptable delays in getting a diagnostic evaluation, even after parents, teachers or other caregivers have recognized the signs of autism," Frazier told CNN.
While many pediatricians screen for autism, it's often mom and dad who noticed unusual development first, says Geraldine Dawson, director of the Center for Autism at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
"If parents notice that their child is not making eye contact, lacks gestures such as pointing, or is slow in developing language, they should talk to their pediatrician or other healthcare provider," Dawson told Reuters.
If you think your child may be dealing with ASD, ask your pediatrician about an evaluation, and if you do get a diagnosis, ask about support for ASD parents in your area. With 1 in 40 kids impacted, you are so not alone.