Pattern of Early Identification of Autism Reversed After Pandemic

Before pandemic, more evaluations and identifications seen by age 48 months per 1,000 children aged 4 years versus children aged 8 years

By Elana Gotkine HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 24, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The overall prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was 21.5 per 1,000 children aged 4 years in 2020, and early identification was disrupted by the pandemic, according to research published in the March 24 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Kelly A. Shaw, Ph.D., from the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues examined the prevalence of ASD among children aged 4 to 8 years in 2020 in 11 sites using data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

The researchers found that for children aged 4 years, ASD prevalence varied across sites, from 12.7 to 46.4 per 1,000 children in Utah and California, respectively, in 2020. The overall prevalence was 21.5, and at every site, prevalence was higher among boys than girls. At all sites, children aged 4 years had a higher cumulative incidence of ASD diagnosis or eligibility by age 48 months compared with children aged 8 years. There were 1,593 more evaluations and 1.89 more ASD identifications per 1,000 children aged 4 years than children aged 8 years received four years earlier in the six months before the March 2020 COVID-19 pandemic declaration. This pattern reversed after the pandemic declaration, with 217 fewer evaluations and 0.26 fewer identifications per 1,000 children aged 4 years than children aged 8 years received four years earlier.

“Because of variability in practices across communities, and the unprecedented disruption to services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding factors to recover and improve equitable and timely access to early ASD identification and services could improve outcomes for children with ASD,” the authors write.

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