Autism Rates Have Shockingly Increased: In contrast to earlier findings, children without concurrent intellectual disabilities were disproportionately affected by the increase in prevalence.
According to a Rutgers University study, the number of documented instances of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the New York-New Jersey metro area grew by as much as 500 percent between 2000 and 2016, with children without intellectual disabilities experiencing the greatest increase.
Contrary to earlier findings, which suggested that autism and intellectual disability frequently co-occur, this is true.
As the primary author of a study that was published today (January 26) in the journal Pediatrics, Josephine Shenouda, an adjunct professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, noted, “One of the misconceptions about ASD is that it occurs alongside intellectual difficulties. “Older studies indicating that up to 75% of children with autism also have intellectual disability supported this notion.”
This assumption is false, as our paper demonstrates, Shenouda added. Two out of every three autistic youngsters in this study showed no signs of any intellectual handicap.
Researchers found 4,661 8-year-olds with ASD in four New Jersey counties (Essex, Hudson, Ocean, and Union) over the study period using biannual data from the New Jersey Autism Study. 1,505 (32.3%) of them had intellectual disabilities, whereas 2,764 (59.3%) did not.
After further investigation, it was discovered that the incidence of ASD co-occurring with intellectual disability doubled between 2000 and 2016—from 2.9 per 1,000 to 7.3 per 1,000. From 3.8 per 1,000 to 18.9 per 1,000, the rate of ASD without intellectual disability increased five-fold.
Although additional research is required to pinpoint the exact causes, Shenouda said there may be explanations for the reported increases.
“Better knowledge of and testing for ASD does play a role,” said Walter Zahorodny, senior author of the study and associate professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.
However, the fact that there was a 500 percent rise in autism among children who did not have any intellectual disabilities—children who we know are slipping through the cracks—indicates that something else is also causing the surge.
Race and socioeconomic position have been demonstrated to be related to ASD prevalence. According to the Rutgers study, Black children with ASD who do not have intellectual problems were recognized 30% less frequently than White children, while children living in wealthy regions were detected 80% more frequently than children living in underprivileged areas.
The researchers were able to estimate rates of ASD undercounting in the four counties using data from the New Jersey Autism Study and the US census.
Addressing the findings, according to Shenouda, could eventually provide much-needed ASD care to lower-income areas and narrow identification gaps.
Up to 72% of people with ASD have intellectual abilities that are borderline or average, she noted, so early screening, early identification, and early intervention should be prioritized.
“Universal screening is crucial, especially in underprivileged populations, because gains in intellectual functioning are commensurate with intensive intervention at younger ages.”
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