Autism spectrum disorder in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes a range of disabilities characterized by repetitive behaviors, sensory issues, and difficulties with speech, nonverbal communication and socializing. The degree of disability varies from person to person and can involve mild impairment from symptoms to severe disability in which extensive support is required. The word “spectrum” is used to describe this wide array of disability degrees and symptoms, which includes Asperger’s syndrome and Autistic disorder. Signs of ASD are usually recognized early in life, with diagnosis typically found to occur between 43 to 64 months after birth in the U.S. The annual direct medical, direct non-medical, and productivity costs of autism spectrum disorders in the U.S. were estimated at around 268 billion dollars in 2015 and were expected to grow to some 461 billion by the year 2025.

In 2014, it was estimated that 16.8 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. had ASD, more than double the rate of 6.7 per 1,000 for the year 2000. There is no concrete explanation for the rise in ASD rates that started in the 1970’s, however genes, environmental factors, and changes in the definition and diagnosis of ASD have all been thought to play a role. The prevalence of ASD is unevenly distributed between the genders, with males disproportionately diagnosed with such disorders. In 2014, it was estimated that 75 percent of children ever diagnosed with ASD were male.

Among select U.S. states it was found that New Jersey had the highest prevalence rates of ASD, followed by Minnesota and Maryland. The estimated lifetime prevalence of ASD among children in the United States also differed slightly by ethnicity. From 2014 to 2016, the lifetime prevalence rate of ASD among non-Hispanic white children aged 3 to 17 years was 2.76 percent, while the prevalence for Hispanic children was 1.82 percent.

ASD often not only involves an array of symptoms, but can also include co-occurring conditions. Co-occurring conditions often associated with ASD consist of learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder. However, while an estimated 78.2 percent of children diagnosed with autism had some kind of functional limitation, only 18.9 percent needed help with personal care.

Although autism spectrum disorder can be severe and life impairing, much misinformation surrounds the conditions on the spectrum. Early treatment and proper care can significantly reduce difficulties among those diagnosed, and help to develop the strengths that individuals with such disorders possess. Furthermore, even though the exact causes of ASD remain a mystery, it is important to dispel myths surrounding the disorder to promote open dialogue and dispel unreasonable fears and prejudice. For example, a survey from 2016 found that 77 percent of families who refused or requested alternative schedules for vaccines stated they did so out of fear of a connection with ASD, despite no evidence of any such connection.

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