PHOENIX — Autism in Arizona and across the U.S. is on the rise, as awareness has led to earlier detection in communities of color, health experts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.
Matt Maenner, part of a team that reported on an increase in diagnosis in 8-year-olds, said research reveals that autism spectrum disorder is not based so much on “biological differences” as on socioeconomic circumstances.
“This is the first report from this program that shows higher prevalence among Black children, Hispanic children, Asian Pacific Islander children compared to white children,” said Maenner, who heads the child disability branch for the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. The March report looked at 8-year-olds and 4-year-olds.
The CDC surveyed communities in 11 states, including Arizona, California and Utah, in 2018 and again in 2020 to detect what had changed or remained the same for 8-year-olds and 4-year-olds. It worked with researchers in each of those communities “so that we can give this population a snapshot of what’s happening.” Maenner said.
Early detection plays an important role in timely treatment, said Kelly Shaw, an epidemiologist who led the report on 4-year-old children.
“Identifying children early is the main thing that we can do in terms of getting them services that they might need as early as possible so that will help them reach their fullest long-term potential,” Shaw said.
Getting a diagnosis as a child, compared to later or even as an adult, can help bring an early understanding for parents and children.
The CDC offers a program, “Learn the signs, Act early,” Shaw said. “We always like to emphasize because there’s lots of resources for health care providers, parents, early childhood educators.”
The report on 4-year-olds was hampered in 2020 because COVID-19 meant they were less likely to be evaluated, according to the CDC website. “This coincides with the interruptions in childcare and healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a CDC news release.
But the report can still “help communities better understand how the pandemic impacted early identification of autism in young children and anticipate future needs as these children get older,” says a statement from Dr. Karen Remley, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, on the CDC website.
The Arizona Autism Coalition, which will conduct an autism expo in April, referred to the CDC report on Facebook and its website.
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