Autism early detection disrupted by COVID-19 pandemic

Autism Awareness Puzzle | Image source: © designervector – © designervector –

Recent analysis by the CDC states that 1 in 36 (2.8%) children by the age of 8 have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The data was recently published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), hails from 11 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Network (ADDM) communities and is not representative of the entire United States, according to a CDC press release. The results are higher than a 2018 estimate that found a prevalence of 1 in 44 (2.3%) with ASD.

Founded in 2000, ADDM is the only network tracking the number and characteristics of children with autism and other developmental disabilities in multiple communities across the United States. The network estimates the prevalence and characteristics of autism in children ages 4 and 8 in 11 communities in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

In these 11 communities, a second report of children as young as 4 highlights autism early detection disorders arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early months of the pandemic, children as young as 4 years old were less likely to have been screened or identified with ASD than children as young as 8 years old if they were the same age. According to the CDC, these findings coincide with disruptions in child and health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Disruptions from the pandemic in the timely screening of children and delays in connecting children to the services and support they need could have a long-lasting impact,” said Karen Remley, MD, director of the National Center on Birth Defects and CDC Developmental Disabilities.” The data in this report can help communities better understand how the pandemic has affected early detection of autism in young children and anticipate future needs as those children grow older.”

The prevalence of autism in ADDM communities ranged from 1 in 43 (2.3%) children in Maryland to 1 in 22 (4.5%) children in California. How communities identify children with autism could create discrepancies, according to the press release. Because the prevalence varies between ADDM network sites, opportunities arise for comparing local policies and models for the delivery of diagnostic and intervention services that could improve the identification of autism.

The results show a demographic shift in children identified with autism. According to the press release, ASD prevalence among Asian, Black, and Hispanic children was at least 30% higher in 2020 than in 2018. Among White children, ASD prevalence was 14.6% higher in 2020 than in 2018. The percentage of Asian or Pacific Islander (3.3%), Hispanic (3.2%), and Black (2.9%) children at age 8 was higher than that of White children at age 8 (2, 4%). According to the CDC, this is the opposite of racial and ethnic differences observed in previous ADDM reports for children as young as 8 years old. Improved screening, awareness and access to services among these groups may reflect these shifts, the states of clearance. Higher percentages of black children with autism were identified with intellectual disabilities compared to Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islander and white children with autism.

At the ADDM sites, the prevalence of autism was almost four times higher in boys than in girls. The prevalence of autism in girls as young as 8 years old has exceeded 1% for the first time in an ADDM report.


Autism prevalence higher, according to data from 11 ADDM communities. CDC. March 23, 2023. Accessed March 31, 2023.

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