Public Health Rev 2012;34(2):1-22
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are estimated to occur among about one percent of children in the United States. This estimate is in line with estimates from other industrialized countries. However, the identified prevalence of ASDs has increased significantly in a short time period based on data from multiple studies including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Whether increases in ASD prevalence are partly attributable to a true increase in the risk of developing ASD or solely to changes in community awareness and identification patterns is not known. It is clear that more children are identified with an ASD now than in the past and the impact on individuals, families, and communities is significant. However, disentangling the many potential reasons for ASD prevalence increases has been challenging. Understanding the relative contribution of multiple factors such as variation in study methods, changes in diagnostic and community identification, and potential changes in risk factors is an important priority for the ADDM Network and for CDC. This article summarizes the discussion from a workshop that was co-sponsored by CDC and Autism Speaks as a forum for sharing knowledge and opinions of a diverse range of stakeholders about changes in ASD prevalence. Panelists discussed recommendations for building on existing infrastructure and developing new initiatives to better understand ASD trends. The information, research, and opinions shared during this workshop add to the knowledge base about ASD prevalence in an effort to stimulate further work to understand the multiple reasons behind increasing ASD prevalence.