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1 in 145 children have autism in Arkansas, study finds 

LITTLE ROCK – A University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) study has found that 1 in 145 Arkansas children has autism, the fourth highest rate among 14 states participating in a national study.

UAMS’ Arkansas data was used as part of the largest-ever U.S. study of autism published Feb. 9 by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found that about 1 in 150 American children, or 560,000, have autism, making the disorder an “urgent public health issue,” said Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, chief of the developmental disabilities branch of the CDC.

The national prevalence of autism prior to the study was thought to be about 1 in 166.

Arkansas’ study was conducted by the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), a program of the Department of Pediatrics in the UAMS College of Medicine. The study establishes a baseline so that autism trends can be tracked, said David Deere, director of the UCEDD program.

“While the rates reflected in the Arkansas data are very concerning, we cannot yet say whether the increase is due to changes in diagnosis or to a true increase in cases,” Deere said.

Arkansas’ findings include:

  • More Arkansas children are diagnosed with autism than ever before.
  • Boys are more than 3.5 times as likely to be diagnosed with autism (1 in 93 boys as compared with 1 in 345 girls).
  • The disorder occurs most often in Caucasian children and least often in Hispanic children.
  • The median age of diagnosis in Arkansas was 4 years 11 months.

Autism can be identified as early as 18 months of age.

Eldon G. Schulz, M.D., a developmental pediatrician and professor of pediatrics and rehabilitation at UAMS/Arkansas Children’s Hospital, said it is unfortunate that autistic children are almost 5 years old before they’re diagnosed in Arkansas.

“None of the states reported adequate early identification,” Schulz said, noting that the age of diagnosis for all 14 states ranged from 4 years 1 month to 5 years 6 months.

“We simply must identify children at an early age so they may benefit from early intervention,” he said. “When intensive services for a child begin early, the effects of autism are greatly reduced.”

Karan Burnette, clinical reviewer for the Arkansas Autism Study at UAMS, said it is clear that more children are being identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“The impact on families is tremendous – physically, emotionally and financially,” Burnette said. “The health care, educational, and human service systems in the state are strained to provide appropriate identification, intervention and support for individuals with ASD and their families. Additional support for research and intensive early intervention is critical to the outcomes for these children.”

Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of developmental disabilities defined by considerable impairments in social interaction and communication and the presence of unusual behaviors and interests. Many individuals with ASD have unusual ways of learning, paying attention and reacting to sensations.

Early autism identification resources are at the CDC Web site: www.cdc.gov/actearly.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,430 students and 715 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,400 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. For more information, visit www.uams.edu.

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