A child running outside

A path for support

Minnesota is one of 11 sites in a nationwide autism prevalence study

A national study published in April estimates that 1 in 59 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The findings were based on data collected from health and school records of 8-year-olds living in 11 communities across the United States in 2014.

The Minnesota site in the study drew data from 9,767 children in Hennepin and Ramsey counties and found a rate of 1 in 42 children (2.4 percent), higher than the national average.

Minnesota’s higher rate may be a reflection of more available services for diagnosis and support, says Amy Hewitt, director of the Institute on Community Integration in CEHD and principal investigator for the Minnesota study.

Consistent with national data, the Minnesota study found that boys were four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ASD. In addition, about half of the study’s children were diagnosed around four years and nine months of age, though ASD can be diagnosed as early as age two.

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disability Monitoring (ADDM) Network. This is the first time Minnesota has been involved in the ADDM Network.

The Minnesota study is unique in relation to other ADDM Network studies because, in addition to examining data from white, black, and Hispanic populations, it also collected information on two immigrant groups with large populations in Minnesota, Somali and Hmong. While the prevalence was slightly higher in Somali children and slightly lower in Hmong children than Minnesota’s average, the sample sizes were too small to verify whether the differences were real or occurred due to random chance, according to Hewitt.

“By being able to expand our study area beyond the borders of Hennepin and Ramsey counties in future studies, we will be able to gain a better perspective on autism rates among all Minnesotans, including those of Somali and Hmong descent,” Hewitt said.

“Understanding the prevalence of autism in Minnesota communities is a critical rst step as we make plans to ensure access to services from childhood through adulthood,” says Hewitt. “We hope that as a result of the MN-ADDM project, the differences uncovered in this study will help us better understand health disparities in our state and to expand Minnesota’s autism support services and workforce network.”

What is a prevalence study?

A prevalence study identifies the number of individuals with a specific condition among a defined group of people at a particular point in  time. It doesn’t answer why, but it does reveal how many people need support and services and lays a foundation for future studies.

A prevalence study by CEHD’s Institute on Community Integration in 2013, funded by the CDC, the National Institutes of Health, and Autism Speaks, examined autism rates specifically in Minneapolis.

Understanding the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is key to promoting awareness, forming plans for support, and identifying clues to further research.

Read more about the study at www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm.html.

Learn more about Amy Hewitt and the Institute on Community Integration.

Story by Ellen Fee | Photo by Tim Mossholder, unsplash.com | Fall 2018