In a report that could inform how physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) approach their work with children, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cited a nearly 30% rise in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) rates in the US since 2008. Current CDC estimates raise the prevalence of ASD from 1 in 88 children to 1 in 68 children, with a growing number of children diagnosed with ASD who have average or above-average intellect.
The CDC findings were widely reported in major media outlets including the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press, each highlighting different features of the report, which pointed out variations in prevalence among ethnicities, sex, and geographic location.
While the new rate "exceeds that of all previous surveillance years," authors of the CDC report said the "most notable change" was the prevalence rates among children with average or above-average intelligence—from 38% of all ASD diagnoses in 2006 to 46% in 2010, the year the study was conducted. The rise was accompanied by a decline in the number of children with co-occurring intellectual disabilities, from 41% to 31%.
The CDC report called for more standardized measures to document ASD severity and functional limitations, improved recognition and documentation of symptoms of ASD, and lowering the age at which children are first assessed.
For more information on ASD and its relationship to physical therapist services, check out a 2014 Physical Therapy article on Physical Activity and Exercise Recommendations for Children and Adolescents With ASD, as well as a 2011 article on Motor Functioning in Infants, Children, and Adults with ASD. Additionally, the association offers a 2-part continuing education primer (part 1; part 2) on ASD available through the APTA Learning Center.
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