A newly released report shows the number of 8-year-old Arkansas children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is significantly higher than data released two years ago by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The new Arkansas numbers are from 2018, the latest data available. They are based on information collected from health and special education records of more than 15,000 8-year-old children living in the Central Arkansas tracking area.
The report shows that an estimated 1 in 44, or 2.3 percent, of central Arkansas 8-year-olds have ASD, according to information collected by the Arkansas Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring program at UAMS. The numbers are part of national data released Dec. 2 by the national CDC. Across all ADDM sites, 1 in 44 8-year-olds have ASD, according to the new data that was gathered by the national ADDM network.
In the 2016 estimated count released in 2020, 1 in 66 Arkansas 8-year-olds were identified with autism and network-wide, 1 in 54.
About 1 in 84, or 1.2 percent, of 4-year-olds were identified with autism spectrum disorder by AR ADDM in 2018. This is the first year the prevalence of autism in 4-year-olds has been available from the monitoring program.
“The Monitoring Program has and will continue to use new data to promote earlier identification of ASD and to plan services and training,” said Maya Lopez, M.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. “Some of the increase in autism prevalence may be evidence of our continued improvement in the state in diagnostic and treatment services for children with autism. That progress may in part explain the picture we have of prevalence.”
The ADDM Network findings are based on analysis of data collected from health and special education records (if available) of 8-year-old and 4-year-old children who lived in one of 11 different areas throughout the United States in 2018. One of those 11 areas includes 21 counties in a central region of Arkansas.
Estimates in the several communities ranged widely, from 1 in 60 children in Missouri to 1 in 26 children in California. Some of this variation might be due to geographic differences in early detection and evaluation, diagnostic practices and other differences in documentation of ASD symptoms.
The Arkansas monitoring program includes investigators with UAMS and operates in collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Education to track the number and characteristics of 8-year-olds with ASD and/or intellectual disability.
White children in Arkansas were 1.6 times more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children. The program found that per 1,000 children, 14.9 Hispanic children are diagnosed with ASD compared with 19.2 Black children and 23.8 white children.
“In Arkansas, Hispanic children were less likely to be identified with ASD than white children,” said Lopez. “Black and Hispanic children often are diagnosed and evaluated later than white children. Educational and health organizations need to sustain efforts over the long-term to reduce disparities and identify individuals with ASD as early as possible in order to provide support.”
UAMS’ Dennis Developmental Center and Schmieding Developmental Center, both in the College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, offer diagnostic multidisciplinary team evaluations for children with developmental and behavioral concerns from birth to 12 years of age.
AR ADDM provides individualized presentations on the number and characteristics of children with ASD to state and community agencies. AR ADDM shares information on autism prevalence and characteristics of individuals with autism with the Arkansas Department of Education and health professionals across the state.