The Centre for Disease Control in the United States released the latest autism prevalence statistics this year. 2018 saw an increase in the prevalence statistics of autism from 1 in 68 just two years ago to 1 in 59. This is a 15% increase, which is astronomical.

One might be inclined to think this number must be an over-estimation. Quite the contrary – at sites where researchers had full access to school records, higher numbers were recorded. This suggests that the new numbers reflect a persistent underestimation of autism’s true prevalence.

Other interesting findings were that:

  • The gender gap in autism has decreased. In 2012, boys were 4.5 times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. By 2014, this had decreased to a ratio of 4:1. This appears to reflect improvement in identification of autism in girls, many of whom do not fit the stereotypical picture of autism seen in boys.
  • White children are still more likely to be diagnosed with autism than children from other racial groups, but this gap has also decreased and reflects improved awareness and screening in ‘minority communities’ in the US.
  • Disappointingly, there has been no overall decrease in the age of diagnosis, with most children still being diagnosed after age 4, even though autism can reliably be diagnosed by age 2. This is important because research and experience shows that early intervention leads to the best outcomes.
  • The change in diagnostic criteria (from the DSM IV TR to the DSM 5, which did away with diagnoses such as Asperger’s Syndrome and moved to a catch-all diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder) caused only a slight decrease in prevalence estimates.
  • The US still lacks any reliable estimate of autism’s prevalence among adults. South Africa

Awareness in South Africa is increasing, which is good in terms of the safety of our children and in terms of families accessing treatment earlier, but we cannot stop there. What is really needed is financial support for Applied Behaviour Analysis, declared by the US surgeon general to be a medical necessity for children on the autism spectrum, and greater acceptance of children with autism in general education schools, with trained facilitators where necessary.