Key Findings: Progress in Early Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorder, but Gaps Remain.

four children wearing mask

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assessed progress in early identification of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States from 2002 through 2016*. There have been concerns about lack of progress in early identification because the age when most children with ASD get their diagnosis has not changed much over time. This study used a different method to measure early identification that better captures progress and gaps.

ASD identification by age four years was four times as likely in 2016 as in 2002. This indicates that there has been improvement in early identification. In addition,

  • Identification of children without co-occurring intellectual disability improved; and
  • Children of every race and ethnicity were more likely to be identified over time.

Differences in early ASD identification exist based on whether children have co-occurring intellectual disability.

  • Black and Hispanic children without intellectual disability were 30% less likely to be identified with ASD by age four years in 2016 than White children.
  • Black children were 50% more likely than White children to be identified with ASD and intellectual disability by age four years in 2016.
  • These findings could reflect differences in social determinants of health, which include factors such as socioeconomic status, housing, physical environment, and experiences with racism and racial discrimination.

Continued efforts are needed to ensure all children with ASD are identified early so they can receive services they may need to support their development as soon as possible.

*Estimates were based on data from 8-year-old children in sites participating in the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network surveillance years 2002 through 2016. “Identification” refers to either an ASD diagnosis or special education classification.

CDC’s Work Tracking and Promoting Early Identification

Providing Communities with Early Identification Data

The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network is a group of programs funded by CDC that tracks autism among children and adolescents in communities across the United States. The ADDM Network recently expanded tracking of ASD among 4-year-old children. This activity provides timely information communities can use to track trends and support efforts to ensure early and equitable identification of children with ASD.

Helping Families and Providers Monitor Children’s Development

CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. program provides free developmental milestone tracking tools, books, and other informational materials in English, Spanish, and other languages. CDC’s Milestone Tracker mobile app is available for Apple and Android devices and can help parents track their child’s development and share the information with their healthcare providers.

For more information about CDC’s ASD activities, visit www.cdc.gov/Autism.

Key Findings Reference

Shaw KA, McArthur D, Hughes MM, Bakian AV, Lee L-C, Pettygrove S, Maenner MJ, Progress and Disparities in Early Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 2002–2016, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2021), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2021.11.019external icon.