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Federal autism diagnosis numbers on the rise

On Behalf of | Apr 10, 2020 | Guardianships & Conservatorships |

In late March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new 2016 data showing that of every 54 kids, one has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), reports Disability Scoop. By comparison, two years earlier the number had been one in every 59 children.

The ADDM Network

The CDC gathers these statistics through its “active surveillance program” called the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, which monitors 8-year-olds at sites in 11 states, including Colorado. The 2016 prevalence across the 11 sites was 18.5 per 1,000, but Colorado’s prevalence was the lowest at 13.1 (one of every 76 kids).

The ADDM Network uses a two-phase process. First, staff review voluminous medical, educational and service-provider records to identify children with traits potentially consistent with an ASD diagnosis. Next, clinicians review each child’s records (with identifying information removed) to determine whether an ASD diagnosis is warranted.

The CDC defines ASD as a “developmental disability characterized by persistent impairments in social interaction and the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, or activities.” Notably, the 2016 data showed that boys received ASD diagnoses 4.3 times more often than girls.

ASD diagnoses with intellectual disability

Of those children with ASD with available IQ information, about one-third had an intellectual disability with an IQ of 70 or less. About one-quarter were in a range called borderline with IQs of 71-85. Black and Hispanic kids with ASD were more likely to have an intellectual disability than white children, as were girls than boys.

Takeaways for Colorado parents

The Disability Scoop article quotes Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, as saying that the “earlier children are diagnosed and the earlier they start intervention, the better their prognosis.” Colorado parents should talk to their pediatricians as early as possible about conducting screening for autism and other developmental disabilities so that services and treatment can be put in place. Early intervention can have a big impact on future developmental gains.

Should disability be diagnosed or suspected, public school districts provide assessment and early intervention services until age three and special education services beginning at age three through age 21 (or 22 if the student turns 22 during the school year.)

As soon as a child’s disability is apparent, the parents should speak with an estate planning attorney with specific experience with disability planning. For example, a lawyer can assist with identifying public benefits for which the child or family may be eligible as well as locating appropriate, quality services.

It is important that legal counsel assess whether to establish tools like special needs trusts or ABLE accounts to protect the financial eligibility of the child for government benefit programs. For the same reason, parents as well as extended family members should take care to set up wills and trusts that prevent direct inheritance of assets by disabled family members.