The number of US children with autism spectrum disorder has soared approximately 30% in the past 2 years, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the surveillance summary report, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers estimate that 1 in 68 children (14.7 per 1,000) now has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared with 1 in 88 children (11.3 per 1,000) in 2012.

To reach their findings, CDC investigators analyzed data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network – a US surveillance system that estimates ASD prevalence among 8-year-old children whose parents or guardians reside in 11 ADDM sites. The system collects its data from community sources that diagnose, educate, treat and/or provide services for children with developmental disabilities.

The CDC note that the way the data has been collected for this report does not differ from previous reports.

The new estimates vary across ADDM sites, with ASD prevalence standing at 1 in 45 children in New Jersey, while 1 in 175 children in Alabama have the condition.

The data reveals that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls, with 1 in 42 boys estimated to have the disorder, compared with 1 in 189 girls. It is also more common among white children than black or Hispanic children.

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The CDC estimate that 1 in 68 children in the US has autism – a 30% increase since 2012.

The majority of children with ASD are diagnosed after the age of 4 years, according to the report, although the condition can be diagnosed as early as 2 years old.

The report also reveals that the level of intellectual ability among children with ASD has significantly increased over the past decade. Nearly half of children diagnosed with ASD have average or above average intellectual ability (defined as an IQ above 85), compared with a third of children 10 years ago.

Based on these estimates, the report researchers say better strategies are needed to improve recognition and documentation of ASD symptoms, particularly among children who do not have intellectual disability.

They add that more standardized and widely adopted measures are needed to document ASD severity and functional limitations linked to the disorder.

Furthermore, they believe the age at which children are first evaluated for ASD, first receive diagnosis and are first enrolled into community-based support services should be decreased.

Coleen Boyle, PhD, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, says:

Community leaders, health professionals, educators and childcare providers should use these data to ensure children with ASD are identified as early as possible and connected to the services they need.”

In 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services launched Healthy People 2020 – an initiative that set out 10-year national objectives to improve the health of all Americans.

One of these objectives is to increase the number of young children with ASD and other developmental disabilities who are screened, evaluated and enlisted in early intervention services quickly and efficiently.

“The most important thing for parents to do is to act early when there is a concern about a child’s development,” says Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, chief of CDC’s Developmental Disabilities Branch.

“If you have a concern about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts or moves, take action. Don’t wait.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that autism begins in the womb – a claim that is contrary to popular belief.