Doctors from the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School conducted a survey of 8-year-olds with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over the New Jersey-New York (NJ-NY ) metropolitan area from 2000 to 2016. The results were recently published in the February issue of the journal of Pediatrics.
Autism is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a “developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.” CDC data show that about 2% of children have been diagnosed with ASD in the United States. Children with ASD can be classified into groups with and without intellectual disability (ID). Having higher intellectual ability has been associated with having better functional outcomes.
The Rutgers study found that:
- Diagnosis rates are 3-times higher among 8-year-olds in the NJ-NY metropolitan area from 2000 to 2016.
- The diagnosis rates of children with average and above average IQs increased 5-times from 2000 rates
- Diagnosis rates increased most among children of wealthy families and without intellectual disability, as compared to Black and Hispanic children and children from underserved areas
- 1 out of 3 ASD children had ID
- Almost 80% of ASD children were male
- A greater proportion of ASD children with ID lived in underserved areas
Possible explanation for findings:
- Greater awareness of ASD
- Improvement of diagnosis methods and provider education
- Changes in the environment and genetics
- However, there is no evidence of any association with vaccines
Experts recommend early intervention to help ASD children with the development of communication skills and the ability to overcome socialization and behavioral challenges. Dr. Josephine Shenouda, an epidemiologist and lead author for the study, told NBC News that universal screening for autism is “not happening consistently, and even when it happens, the follow-through – where parents are referred to appropriate services – that’s also lacking.”
The authors are hoping that their data would help identify the cause of ASD and in planning for services. There is a shortage of special education teachers and staff (particularly in low resource communities) that is made worse by the sharp increase in the diagnosis of ASD and the need for early treatment. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents were unable have their children evaluated for ASD or be able to obtain the necessary treatment for them. The after-effects of this delay will be more apparent with the normalization of life after the COVID crisis.
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Contact: Dr. Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, email@example.com