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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2021 Nov 22:S0890-8567(21)02000-1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2021.11.019. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVE: Early identification can improve outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We sought to assess changes in early ASD identification over time and by co-occurring intellectual disability (ID) and race/ethnicity.
METHOD: Using data for 2002 through 2016 from a biennial population-based ASD surveillance program among 8-year-old children in the United States, we defined identification as a child’s earliest recorded ASD diagnosis or special education eligibility. Unidentified children had characteristics meeting the ASD surveillance case definition but no recorded identification by age 8 years. We calculated median age at identification among identified children, median age at identification including unidentified children, and cumulative incidence of identification by age 48 months.
RESULTS: ASD identification by age 48 months was four times (95% CI: 3.6-4.3) as likely in 2016 as 2002, with the largest increases among children without ID. Median age at ASD identification among identified children decreased 3 months during this time. Children of every race/ethnicity were more likely to be identified over time. There were racial disparities stratified by ID: in 2016, Black and Hispanic children without ID were less likely to be identified with ASD than White children (both groups risk ratio: 0.7; 95% CI: 0.5-0.8), but Black children were 1.5 times (95% CI:1.3-1.9) as likely as White children to be identified with ASD and ID.
CONCLUSION: Substantial progress has been made to identify more children with ASD early, despite minimal decrease in median age at diagnosis. Considerable disparities remain in early ASD identification by race/ethnicity and co-occurring intellectual disability.