Data shows increasing prevalence of autism spectrum disorders


Researchers at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC), as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disorders Surveillance Network (ADDM), report an increase in the number of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Tennessee.

The researchers published their findings in the CDC’s Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report Series on Dec. 2.

The team, led by Zachary Warren, PhD, Director of the VKC Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorder (TRIAD) and Director of the Division of Developmental Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics, and Alison Vehorn, Director of the ADDM Project, were initially created. in 2015 and repaid in 2019 with a $ 1.6 million grant from the CDC to conduct population studies on the prevalence of autism in mid-Tennessee.

Since then, the Vanderbilt ADDM team has worked with the largest CDC network, which covers 11 communities across the United States, to present prevalence data every two years.

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Results from the ADDM Network, which combined data collected in 2018 from 11 sites in the United States, revealed that one in 44 8-year-old children studied suffers from ASD. This number represents a substantial increase from previous estimates of 1 in 54 8-year-old children studied with ASD.

The Middle Tennessee study site reported an increase from 1 in 64 children with ASD to 1 in 44. Tennessee serves as a midpoint in this new data across the 11 ADDM sites, with its rate of 8-year-olds with ASD. 2.3% TSA. .

“It is important to understand that the estimate of the prevalence of ASD in 8-year-old children is not representative of the entire United States, but rather an in-depth examination of the 11 communities that make up the ADDM network. of the CDC, “Vehorn said. “And the increase cannot be attributed to just one factor.”

“These results are likely a combination of increased awareness and advanced methods of child assessment,” Warren explained. “There may also be other complicated factors associated with a true increase, but there is no single cause – our methodology does not tell us what cause. What he does is tell us how incredibly common ASD is in our communities. These results push the idea, more than anything else, that we must put in place care systems capable of serving 1 in 44 children. “

Other new research findings include results from the first-time tracking of 4-year-old children in Tennessee. The ADDM network found that children born in 2014 (aged 4 at the time of the study) were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with ASD or an ASD special education classification by age 48 months per compared to children born in 2010 (8 years old at the time of studies). This finding is particularly significant because of the importance of early detection and access to services for children with autism.

“There is growing evidence to suggest that providing early access and support for ASDs can dramatically improve skills important for learning and quality of life,” said Warren. “Early intervention can help support tremendous progress in language and communication skills. In addition, early detection allows us to better understand, serve and support both children with ASD and their parents.

Another difference in the CDC’s findings is the special attention given to monitoring children from ethnic minority groups for ASD. Historically, the ADDM network has shown significant differences in the prevalence of ASD in 8-year-old black and Hispanic children, but in this report those differences were no longer significant. Among 4-year-olds, the ADDM Network found that ethnic and racial minority groups were often identified with ASD at higher rates than white children.

These findings may suggest improvements in ASD awareness, identification, and access to services in communities serving Black, Hispanic, and other traditionally underserved populations.

“Historically, there have been huge disparities in the identification and service of autism, and those disparities are getting smaller and smaller now,” Vehorn said. “But we are not done with the work to make the identification and treatment of ASDs more equitable for non-white children. These findings simply mean that we need to continue the work of identifying and supporting historically underrepresented children as soon as possible. “

Warren and Vehorn’s discoveries in mid-Tennessee and subsequent contributions to CDC’s ADDM network are made possible through VKC’s strong partnerships with the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Health.

“We’re in a privileged position to be able to do this population-wide work because of our partnerships,” said Warren. In addition, forward-thinking leaders from the Department of Education, the Tennessee Early Intervention System and other state agencies are partnering with Vanderbilt not only to understand prevalence, but they are also using this data to support investments in support programs for people with ASD. throughout life in accordance with documented prevalence.

The Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Early Intervention System support several VKC and TRIAD capacity building partnerships through professional development, training and technical assistance contracts. “It’s very likely that some of the changes we’ve seen in identification and service in Middle Tennessee are a direct result of this funding and broader partnerships,” Warren said.


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