CDC: Early autism detection disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic

Contemporary PEDS JournalMay 2023
Volume 40
Issue 04

Data pulled from 11 communities in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ADDM) Network demonstrate higher autism prevalence for children aged 8 years.

Autism awareness puzzle | Image Credit: © designervector - © designervector -

Autism awareness puzzle | Image Credit: © designervector - © designervector -

Recent analysis from the CDC states 1 in 36 (2.8%) children aged 8 years have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The data, recently published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), comes from 11 communities in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ADDM) Network and is not representative of the entire United States, according to a CDC press release. The findings are higher than a 2018 estimate, which found a prevalence of 1 in 44 (2.3%) identified with ASD.

ADDM was established in 2000 and is the only network to track the number and characteristics of children with autism and other developmental disabilities in multiple communities in the United States. The network estimates prevalence and characteristics of autism in children aged 4 and 8 years across 11 communities in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.

In those 11 communities, a second report of children aged 4 years highlights disruptions of early autism detection resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the early months of the pandemic, children aged 4 years were less likely to have an evaluation or be identified with ASD than children aged 8 years, when they were the same age. According to the CDC, these findings coincide with interruptions in child and health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Disruptions due to the pandemic in the timely evaluation of children and delays in connecting children to the services and support they need could have long-lasting effects,” said Karen Remley, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.“ The data in this report can help communities better understand how the pandemic impacted early identification of autism in young children and anticipate future needs as these children get older.”

Autism prevalence in the ADDM communities ranged from 1 in 43 (2.3%) children located in Maryland to 1 in 22 (4.5%) children located in California. How communities identify children with autism could cause variations, according to the release. With prevalence varying across ADDM Network sites, opportunities to compare local policies and models for delivering diagnostic and intervention services that could enhance autism identification arise.

Findings show shifting demographics among children identified with autism. ASD prevalence among Asian, Black, and Hispanic children was at least 30% higher in 2020 than in 2018, according to the release. Among White children, ASD prevalence was 14.6% higher in 2020 than 2018. The percentage of Asian or Pacific Islander (3.3%), Hispanic (3.2%) and Black (2.9%) children aged 8 years was higher than White children aged 8 years (2.4%). According to the CDC, this is the opposite of racial and ethnic differences observed in previous ADDM reports for children aged 8 years. Improved screening, awareness, and access to services among these groups may reflect these shifts, the release states. Higher percentages of Black children with autism were identified with intellectual disability compared with Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, and White children with autism.

In the ADDM sites, autism prevalence was nearly 4 times higher for boys than for girls. Prevalence of autism among girls aged 8 years has exceeded 1% for the first time in an ADDM report.


Autism prevalence higher, according to data from 11 ADDM communities. CDC. March 23, 2023. Accessed March 31, 2023.

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