UA Steele Children’s Research Center Receives $2 Million from CDC to Continue Identifying Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Arizona

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson Steele Children’s Research Center received a four-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to continue its Arizona Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (ADDSP).

The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson Steele Children’s Research Center received a four-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to continue its Arizona Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (ADDSP).

The ADDSP is part of a multi-site effort to track autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and intellectual disabilities (ID) among U.S. school children. 

ADDSP has conducted ASD surveillance in Arizona since 2000 as part of the Autism and Developmental Disability Monitoring (ADDM) Network. The UA pediatrics team reviews thousands of special education and clinic records each study year to report on the number of 4- and 8-year-old children with ASD and/or ID and on the demographic and behavioral characteristics of the affected children. In study year 2010, ADDSP reported that approximately 1 in 64 8-year-olds living in Maricopa County had ASD, an increase from 1 in 154 children in 2000.   

The study is led by co-principal-investigators Sydney Pettygrove, PhD, epidemiologist and assistant professor, UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Margaret Kurzius-Spencer, MPH, MS, PhD, assistant professor, UA Department of Pediatrics and the UA Steele Center. 

“We will continue this intensive effort to monitor the prevalence of ASD and ID among 4- and 8-year-old children,” said Dr. Kurzius-Spencer. “Our goals are to improve understanding of these disorders and to carry out education and outreach activities, working in tandem with our community partners.” 

The University of Arizona is one of 10 ADDM sites throughout the nation to receive funding this grant cycle. The data are collected systematically at these sites and are used by the CDC and others to compare ASD occurrence in different areas of the nation, to identify changes in prevalence over time and to improve the understanding of the impact of ASD on the community. 

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are lifelong developmental disabilities characterized by repetitive or restricted behaviors or interests and marked impairment in social communication and interaction. ASD include autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, including atypical autism), and Asperger disorder. ASD begins in early childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life.  

“Our next study year will be the definitive work on how the change from the DSM-IV to the DSM-5 criteria affects the prevalence of ASD and will allow us to continue to examine disparities in early screening and identification of ASD,” said Dr. Pettygrove.

 Co-investigators on the project include:

  • Sydney Rice, MD, associate professor and developmental pediatrician; Division of Genetics and Developmental Pediatrics, UA Department of Pediatrics; UA Steele Children’s Research Center;
  • Jennifer Andrews, MBA, coordinator, Division of Genetics and Developmental Pediatrics, UA Department of Pediatrics;
  • Gondy Leroy, PhD, associate professor; Management Information Systems; and
  • Paul Hsu, PhD, associate professor, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.