One in 40 U.S. Kids Could Have Autism, Says a New Study. Here’s Why That Figure Is Already a Matter of Debate

November 29, 2018, 12:17 AM UTC

One in every 40 children in the United States could have autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new article published in the journal Pediatrics.

By contrast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the estimate at one in 59 children having ASD nationwide.

The true number of children with autism in the U.S. may be somewhere in the middle. And the reason for that discrepancy may have to do with how the data was collected. The study published in Pediatrics relied on numbers from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, which is based on reporting from 50,000 parents of children ages 17 and under.

The CDC’s data collection methods are slightly more conservative in the sense that they rely on medical and school records for 8-year-olds sampled at various sites across the country. That may leave out young people not receiving services related to a possible diagnosis.

That’s certainly the consensus from groups such as Autism Speaks, a nonprofit advocacy organization that sponsors research about the causes of autism and related spectrum disorders. “One in 40 is closer to what we see with direct prevalence studies where researchers go into a community to directly screen for autism,” Autism Speaks’ chief science officer Thomas Frazier said in a statement.

The CDC has reported a steady uptick in ASD diagnoses since 2002, back when the number of cases were one in 150. in the U.S. ASD is about four times as common in girls.