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Demographics of children identified with autism are shifting

University of Utah Health

This story was originally published on @TheU.

By Julie Kiefer - associate director, science communications, University of Utah Health

One in 40 Utah children aged 8 years have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a newly published analysis led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with scientists across the country including at Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

For years, previous reports consistently found that White children had the highest rates of autism. But for the first time, the new analysis found that among Utah children in this age group, rates were equal in White children and children from historically underserved populations, including Hispanic and Pacific Islanders.

For the second year in a row, the analysis also reported that autism was more prevalent in children from lower-income households than children from higher-income households, a reversal from years prior.

The shift in demographics is good news, say HMHI researchers who led the Utah portion of the study.

The trends may signal that, due to improvements, families from historically underserved populations in Utah can access diagnostic services more readily than in the past, says Amanda Bakian, associate professor of psychiatry at HMHI.

“We know that we are doing a better job of identifying ASD early,” explains Deborah Bilder, professor of psychiatry at HMHI. She co-led the Utah study with Bakian. “In addition, there have been improvements in access to services across Utah’s populations.”

The changing rates of autism are a telling phenomenon happening in many regions of the U.S. “For years, we wondered whether the higher prevalence we had seen in White children was due to a biological phenomenon,” Bakian says. The new report, along with other evidence, indicates that autism actually is common across all groups of children.

The report reveals additional details, including data suggesting that autism is underdiagnosed in young children in Utah.

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