The prevalence rate of autism seems to be increasing but is this truly the case or is it merely increased awareness of the condition greater so it seems like more people are affected?
As we know, autism spectrum disorders include many diagnoses of people at various points on the autism spectrum. But just what is the prevalence rate of autism across the world?
Prevalence Rate Of Autism in USA
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence rate of autism in the United States on April 26, 2018. This surveillance study identified 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
This estimated prevalence rate of autism in the USA was based on an analysis of 2014 medical records and educational records of 8-year-old children. The new estimate represents a 15% increase in prevalence nationally from studies conducted in 2012: to 1 in 59 children, from 1 in 68 two years previous. There is even more recent data suggesting the current incidence rate might be as high as 1 in 45…. though due to different data collection methods, it is always difficult to accurately compare studies.
The gender gap in autism has decreased. While boys were 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls in 2014, the difference was narrower than in 2012, when boys were 4.5 times more frequently diagnosed than girls. This appears to reflect improved identification of autism in girls – many of whom do not fit the stereotypical picture of autism seen in boys.
White children were still more likely to be diagnosed with autism than were minority children. However, the ethnic gap had narrowed since 2012, due to increased awareness and screening in minority communities.
There was no overall decrease found in the age of diagnosis. In 2014, most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2. Earlier diagnosis is crucial because early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan.
There is still a lack of reliable estimate of autism’s prevalence rate among adults. As autism is a lifelong condition for most people, this represents an unacceptable gap in our awareness of their needs – particularly in areas such as employment, housing and social inclusion. Autistic kids become autistic adults. It is not a condition that people “grow out of”.
In 2016 a study funded by Autism Speaks, found that the prevalence rate of autism in Mexico is at 1 in 115 in their first scientific estimate. While the number may be an underestimate, it provides a solid foundation for government leaders and agencies that have expressed eagerness to understand and meet their nation’s need for autism services.
Experts generally agree that the lower Hispanic number reflects a lower rate of identifying autism – not a true lower prevalence.
Currently autism has no real cure, but treating the medical conditions associated with it and helping provide behavioural strategies that aggravate autism symptoms can drastically improve the child’s health and their life experience.
How Does The Prevalence Rate Of Autism In USA Compare With Other Nations?
Autism in Australia
This is difficult to accurately compare the prevalence rate of autism throughout the world as the USA appears to be the only place tracking and reporting their Autism numbers. Many other countries do not track and report accurate data.
In Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), an estimated 164,000 Australians had autism in 2015. This represented an overall prevalence rate of autism of 0.7%, or about 1 in 150 people.
The number of people with autism in Australia has increased considerably in recent years, up from an estimated 64,400 people in 2009. 83% of sufferers of Autism in Australia were found to be under 25 years old. Again the increase in prevalence rate of autism may be due to heightened awareness of the condition and higher levels of diagnosis.
Males were 4 times as likely as females to have autism, representing 81% of the population of people with autism.
Autism in UK
In the UK, there is no register or exact count kept on the prevalence rate of autism. Any information about the possible number of autistic people in the community must be based on epidemiological surveys. It is estimated that approximately 700,000 people may be autistic, or more than 1 in 100 in the population. The latest prevalence studies of autism indicate that 1.1% of the population in the UK may be on the autism spectrum.
Five times as many males as females are diagnosed with autism in the UK.
Note that autism is under-diagnosed in females, and therefore the male to female ratio of those who are on the autism spectrum may be much closer than is indicated by the figure of 5:1.
Autism in Other Countries
Here is a chart we found from The Statistics Portal describing the prevalence rate of autism spectrum disorder among children in select countries worldwide as of 2017 (per 10,000 children)
It looks like the countries of the developed world have a higher incidence of Autism. Though many other countries do not track, measure or report their rates of Autism.
Life Expectancy Rates In The Autistic Population
A study published from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, published in The British Journal of Psychiatry revealed that the risk of premature death is about 2.5 times higher for people with autism spectrum disorder than for the rest of the population.
The mean age of death for someone with autism is 54 compared with 70 for the general population. For people with autism and a learning disability, the mean age drops to 40.
Three Main Causes Of Early Death In Autism
1. Epilepsy: For those with autism and a learning disability, epilepsy is the leading cause of premature death. The Epilepsy Society sites that 39% of deaths from epilepsy could have been avoided. Preventative measures would include lifestyle changes and medications, education of self and those around you and seizure management.
2. Suicide: Sadly, for those who don’t have a learning disability, the leading cause of early death is suicide. Whilst more research needs to be done here, immediate steps include more awareness, education and support for this population.
3. Heart problems and cancer: There is already a strong link between epilepsy and heart disease but as yet no research has suggested that the same link applies to Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It is still not clear if people with autism are more susceptible to these illnesses, or if there is a lack of awareness of these problems among health professionals resulting in delays and inadequacies in diagnosis and treatment.
The prevalence rate of autism is difficult to compare across world populations due to differences in tracking and reporting data and in many cases, no tracking or reporting. In the countries that are tracking and reporting, it appears that the prevalence rate of autism is increasing though much of this may be due to increased awareness and increased access to services that can help It is likely that the true prevalence rate of autism is not increasing and the statistics will level out and plateau over the next few years.