UAHS Researchers Contribute to National CDC Study that Estimates 1 in 59 U.S. Children Having an Autism Spectrum Disorder

In Arizona, the findings were slightly lower, with 1 in 71 8-year-old children in Maricopa County identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Researchers from the University of Arizona Health Sciences participated in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that estimates  1 in 59 children in the United States has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), based on tracking across multiple areas of the nation.

In Arizona, prevalence was slightly lower, with 1 in 71, 8-year-old children in Maricopa County identified with ASD. Since 2000, ASD prevalence has more than doubled in Arizona, but the current estimate was slightly lower than in 2008-2012.

Margaret Kurzius-Spencer, PhD, MPH, MS, assistant professor, UA Department of Pediatrics, and researcher with the UA Steele Children’s Research Center, and Sydney Pettygrove, PhD, epidemiologist and assistant professor in the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, are co-principal Investigators for  the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (ADDSP). The ADDSP is the Arizona site of the CDC Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

Their team reviewed special education and clinical health records of 8-year-old children living within the boundaries of 11 school districts in Maricopa County during 2014 to determine the prevalence of ASD and intellectual disabilities in that region.

Key findings:

  • Approximately 1 in 59, or 1.7 percent, of 8-year-old children were identified with autism in 2014, based on tracking in 11 states across the United States. The overall prevalence of autism was higher in 2014, as compared to 2012, when we identified autism in 1 in 68, or 1.5 percent of children.
  • The recent change in the diagnostic criteria for autism has had little effect on the percentage of school-aged children identified as having ASD in this study.
  • The researchers found that children identified with autism are not receiving comprehensive developmental evaluations as early as they could, despite developmental concerns, and frequently fail to receive a diagnosis prior to 4 years of age.
  • Although a higher percentage of white children are identified with autism, compared to minorities, disparities in the identification of autism in minority populations have narrowed and the prevalence among black and Hispanic children is approaching that of white children. This finding suggests communities have improved in identification of ASD in minority populations.
  • Lastly, the study continues to highlight the vital role parents, pediatricians and other clinicians play in getting children who have developmental delays evaluated early and the important role of schools in providing services for children with autism.

Complete Arizona findings are available at:

Web feature link:  https://www.cdc.gov/features/new-autism-data/index.html  This website will be available  Monday, April 30.

“The prevalence of autism has increased markedly since the early 2000s,” said Dr. Kurzius-Spencer. “We know there are many children living with autism who need services and support, both now and as they grow into adolescence and adulthood. More needs to be done to ensure children are evaluated as soon as possible after developmental concerns are identified.”

“Together, we can make a difference,” said Dr. Pettygrove. “Parents can track their child’s development and act early if they have a concern. Providers can acknowledge and help parents act on those concerns. Parents and professionals can join forces to ensure that all children with autism get identified and connected to the services they need as early as possible.”

The Arizona Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (ADDSP) is a joint undertaking with the CDC, the Arizona Department of Education and many other agencies and organizations that serve children with developmental disabilities and their families. The ADDSP has completed the 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 surveillance years and is collecting data for the 2016 surveillance year.

About the UA Steele Children’s Research Center

The UA Steele Children’s Research Center is one of the prestigious Centers of Excellence within the UA College of Medicine - Tucson at the University of Arizona Health Sciences. It is the state’s only academic pediatric research center designated by the Arizona Board of Regents, and the only facility in Southern Arizona where researchers and physician-scientists are dedicated to advancing medical knowledge through basic and translational research to improve children’s health. As researchers, they seek to discover answers to children’s medical mysteries. As physician-scientists, they provide compassionate care to hospitalized patients at Banner Children’s at Diamond Children’s Medical Center and pediatric outpatient clinics throughout Tucson and the state. And, as faculty members with the UA Department of Pediatrics, they teach and train the next generation of pediatricians and researchers.

About the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the State of Arizona with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor, master and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information: www.publichealth.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter)

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in Arizona with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information: publichealth.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter)