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Kathy Wilets

Associate Director, Office of Public Affairs
Phone: 801-581-5717

Apr 09, 2014 3:34 PM

Utah children continue to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at a rate higher than the national average; however, the state’s prevalence rate for the disorder is holding steady at about 2 percent of the youth population.

A new study of 2010 data by the Utah Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Project (Utah ADDM) shows that about 1 in 54 Utah children has ASD. Nationally, the ASD prevalence rate is 1 in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring ASD prevalence and diagnostic trends in 11 states and funds the study.  Among the monitored sites, only New Jersey – at 1 in 46 children – had a higher prevalence than Utah.

The Utah findings are based on data collected by the Utah Department of Health’s Utah Registry for

Autism and Developmental Disabilities (URADD) from health and education records of children in Davis, Salt Lake, and Tooele counties who were 8 years old in 2010, says Deborah Bilder, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah and a Utah study co-principal investigator.

 In 2008, Utah had the highest ASD prevalence (1 in 47) among the 14 ADDM sites.  The 2010 study covered a much larger geographic area and included rural Tooele County for the first time.  “Adding Tooele County is important because it provides an understanding of how ASD affects children beyond the populated areas of the Wasatch Front,” Bilder says.

“The results from 2010 confirm those from 2008,” said Bilder. “ASD affected about 2 percent of 8-year-old children in Utah for both study years. As we plan services and consider our communities’ needs, we now have consistent findings on which to base these decisions.”

”State-specific prevalence information helps Utah lawmakers, health agencies, and community organizations more accurately plan for the medical, educational, vocational, and other services that will be needed to support children with ASD and their families,” Bilder added.

The data collected from this study preceded the release of the new autism spectrum disorder diagnostic criteria as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).  For the 2010 study year, three ASDs were recognized, including autistic disorder, Asperger disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.  ASDs affect information processing in the brain. Children with ASD often need educational, vocational, and other forms of support.

According to the study, less than half of Utah children with ASD were identified by community providers by age four years, although an ASD diagnosis can be made in children as young as two.

“An important reason for tracking age at first ASD diagnosis is to evaluate public health efforts to identify children affected by ASD at the youngest possible age,” says Bilder.  “Children who access ASD treatment at very young ages respond best to intervention.” 

Although Hispanic children were somewhat less likely to be identified with ASD than their Caucasian non-Hispanic counterparts, the gap has narrowed substantially since Utah first participated in the ADDM Network in study year 2002.  Because there is no biological reason to believe that ASD is less common in Hispanic children, this likely reflects Utah’s success in improving ASD awareness and access to services within the Hispanic community.