Children were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with autism by age 4 in 2018 than in 2014, data released by the US government shows.

Data shows autism prevalence was similar across racial and ethnic lines, but rates were higher among Black children in two sites, Maryland and Minnesota.
Data shows autism prevalence was similar across racial and ethnic lines, but rates were higher among Black children in two sites, Maryland and Minnesota. (Kim Johnson Flodin / AP)

The United States has released new autism numbers suggesting more American children are being diagnosed with developmental conditions and at younger ages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) released the numbers on Thursday, displaying that children were 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism by age 4 in 2018 than in 2014.

"There is some progress being made and the earlier kids get identified, the earlier they can access services that they might need to improve their developmental outcome," said CDC researcher and co-author Kelly Shaw.

Geraldine Dawson, director of Duke University's Center for Autism and Brain Development, said the new estimate is similar to one found in research based on screening a large population of children rather than on those already diagnosed.

As such, she said it may be closer to reflecting the true state of autism in US children than earlier estimates.

Rates higher among Black children in two sites

Overall, autism prevalence was similar across racial and ethnic lines, but rates were higher among Black children in two sites, Maryland and Minnesota.

Until recently, US data showed prevalence among white children was higher.

At a third site, Utah, rates were higher among children from lower-income families than those from wealthier families, reversing a longstanding trend, said report co-author Amanda Bakian, a University of Utah researcher who oversees the CDC’s autism surveillance in that state.

Bakian said that likely reflects more coverage for autism services by Medicaid and private health insurers.

The CDC reports are based on data from counties and other communities in 11 states – some with more urban neighbourhoods, where autism rates tend to be higher. The rates are estimates and don't necessarily reflect the entire US situation, the authors said.

Autism rates varied widely – from 1 in 26 in California, where services are plentiful, to 1 in 60 in Missouri.

READ MORE: Police release footage of Utah officers shooting at young teen with autism

Source: AP