By DENNIS A. BROWN II
Some people in the autism spectrum disorder, such as myself, are usually obsessed with numbers. You may be confused about the latest figures about children with autism. You’ll also find out why we lack stats on adults with autism.
In a series of guest columns last April, I stated how the Centers for Disease Control revealed a new method that would give a faster look at the rate of children being diagnosed with autism. The rate was provided by the National Health Interview Survey, which was based on topics that were later calculated to reveal the newest findings.
Those findings said that in 2015 one in 43 children was diagnosed with autism. That figure allegedly rose in 2016 to one in 36. The older method would take eight years of research and two years to present the statistics which meant that the child diagnosed with autism would be ten years old when the data was released. Eleven states would participate in the survey which was then inferred by extending that data throughout the country.
Here’s the confusing part: In April 2018, the rate of children being diagnosed with autism in the United States, according to the CDC, was 1 in 59, an increase of about 15.2 percent from the 1 in 68 that was reported in 2016. But a Nov. 26, 2018, report from the journal Pediatrics said that the rate was 1 in 40, an increase of about 32.2 percent from that same period. That figure was from a 2016 analysis of the National Survey of Children’s Health. Dr. Thomas Frazier, chief science officer of Autism Speaks, says that the latest statistics is closer to what is seen with direct prevalence studies where the researchers are visiting communities and performing direct screenings for autism. He also calls the CDC’s findings “a bit conservative” and called the analysis methods “more liberal and inclusive” and believes that the CDC’s estimates are in contrast because they’re based on medical and school records for children who are 8 years of age. That particular study can omit children with autism who are lacking assistance. Michael D. Kogan, director of Epidemiology & Research of the Maternal & Child Health Bureau of Rockville, Md., says that autism is difficult to track due to a lack of biological testing.
I also stated that I was diagnosed as being in the autism spectrum disorder in 1989 at 17 and with severe Asperger’s syndrome in 2007 at 35. The United States lags behind with adults being diagnosed with autism because of unreliable figures for two reasons. First, many young adults with autism are without healthcare when they stop visiting a pediatrician after turning 18. Second, according to Facts You Didn’t Know About Autism In Adults, The National Institute of Mental Health says that symptoms of autism in adults would overlap with other unrelated disorders including attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder. This would lead to drugs and therapies that would fail to cater to the needs of adults. Research on treatment is also far less inclusive for adults than the research for children. These can result in adults being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.
I’ve also stated that children with autism grow up to become adults but cannot outgrow autism. The CDC predicts that by 2030 the number of adults living with autism would climb by 700 percent. By 2025 about 500,000 teenagers with autism will become adults and be aged out of school-based support programs after reaching age 21.
Why are the numbers so conflicting and so confusing when we still don‘t know the cause of autism? Why do we have more than one source to calculate the rates? How many adults with autism have to be left out before anything is done? Why aren’t adults subjected to biological testing especially if the problem goes undiagnosed into adulthood? Why don’t pediatricians try to find some way for the young adults to get the additional help after they turn 18? If adults were properly screened and diagnosed and if the pediatricians were to lend a hand to the young adults with autism in finding additional help, adults in the autism spectrum disorder would be included in the stats and in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
(Dennis A. Brown, II is originally from Louisville, Ky., and currently lives in Dearborn. He currently works as a grocery store cashier. He was diagnosed with autism at 17 and with severe Asperger’s syndrome at 35. He’s a former radio broadcaster and volunteers his time and effort by writing, recording, and producing public service announcements about autism awareness for non-commercial radio stations.)