Just How Many Are There? 1:68

It seems like a simple question, doesn’t it? How many children are there with autism?  It’s usually the second question I get, right after “Why so many?”

Today the CDC released its newest projections.  1:68 children who are 8 years old have autism.  This replaces their previous number of 1:88.  It’s not good news.

I recall the “good old days” way back in 2007 when the CDC released their report indicating 1:150 children struggled with autism.

Then in 2009 they told us the number was 1:110.

In 2012 it jumped to 1:88.

Today: 1:68 children have autism.

Does it surprise me? No.  Does it scare me? …. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

As I’ve shared before on this blog, the sad reality is we don’t know the birth rate today.  This snapshot is of 8-year-olds; add a couple of years for the research to be collected and vetted and you are looking at data on children born ten years ago.  And given the history, we can only believe the likelihood for a child born today is even greater.

Are we at least finding ways to tap into these children’s abilities better than before? An interesting change with these latest numbers. A decade ago we thought about two thirds of children with autism also showed below average intelligence.  This newest report identifies average or above average intelligence (IQ of 85 or more) occurs with almost half (46%) of these children.  The research doesn’t demonstrate if this is tied to treatment or educational supports. It could just reflect the changing demographic.

Minorities are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with autism.  1:63 white children, 1:81 black children, 1:93 Hispanic children were identified with ASD.

The newest report continues to show boys (1:42) are nearly 5 times more likely than girls (1:189) to be diagnosed.

The CDC report reflects a large variation between communities.  For example, New Jersey showed 1:45 children while Alabama listed 1:175.

What do we know about Iowa? We were not part of this national study but we have some indication.  You are a lot less likely to get diagnosed in Iowa than in our neighboring states.  US Department of Education data show the percentage of students with autism far exceeds our Iowa count.  And Minnesotans are 10 times more likely to get a diagnosis of autism.

Iowa remains a non-categorical state leaving a label such as “autism” an irrelevant point for many tracking data in our schools.

What does this mean? If you are considering being born, you should try to be a Hispanic female from Alabama?  Of course not. Aside from the male/female difference, we have to wonder how much of this variance is tied to inconsistent identification at an early age. We are not very good at picking up an accurate diagnosis.  Well trained professionals should be able to pick it up at age 2 but the average age at diagnosis in this study is 4.

What systems have we created to support this growing demand? Iowa is ahead of many states yet most of our rural communities find specialized services out of reach.  Are the adult service systems ready for the growing demand?  This latest news reminds us we must be prepared to respond to this need.