CDC: Autism rates on the rise, especially among minorities

A new report released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Thursday shows autism is on the rise and rates are increasing quickly for minorities.

The new findings show in 2020, 1 out of every 36 children in the U.S. was diagnosed with autism.

That’s up from 1 in 44 children in 2018 and 1 in 150 children in 2000.

The numbers may sound concerning, but one doctor tells FOX 5 more diagnoses may stem from better awareness and screening.

"A big reason that the number has gone up, is simply that we are recognizing and identifying autism in kids who've always had autism, but who we missed before," said Dr. Lauren Kenworthy, director for The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National Hospital.

While advances in medicine and a greater awareness of the disorder could be driving the increase, FOX 5 also asked, is it more common or are we just better at diagnosing?


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"At this point, I think it's clear that we're getting better at identifying it," Dr. Kenworthy said. "Whether or not it's more common remains a question." 

For the first time the report also revealed a higher prevalence of autism among minority children compared to white children.

"People recognizing that we have to look more carefully ... That we have to, you know, overcome whatever biases we may have, and see each child and their presentation for what it is," Dr. Kenworthy explained.

What has stayed consistent in the report is that autism is significantly higher among boys than girls but Dr. Kenworthy says that’s not necessarily a good thing.


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"For every one autistic girl we identify, there are four autistic boys. We know that that ratio should be lower," she said. "One reason that it's not is because a lot of autistic girls as well as gender diverse individuals show a slightly different profile. They show autism in a slightly different way, and it can be considered sometimes to be more subtle."

Another new report was published by the CDC on the same day that addressed how the pandemic played a role in late detection of autism diagnosis.

Dr. Kenworthy says she definitely saw less children being diagnosed because developmental disabilities were not being recognized as often. 

Read the CDC Higher Autism Prevalence and COVID-19 Disruptions report here and the Prevalence and Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children report here