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Autism Statistics in 2023

Autism Statistics in 2023
Reading Time: 7 minutes

There’s a growing understanding of what autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is and how it can present in many different ways. Progress is still slow, but people are beginning to understand that there’s more to autism than the common stereotypes. Despite increased ASD awareness, people misinterpret autism statistics when discussing the prevalence of autism and potential risk factors. Here at Goally, though, we’re only interested in scientifically-proven stats from trustworthy sources. Keep reading to learn about autism statistics you need to know as we head into 2023. 

Breaking Down Autism Prevalence Statistics 

In a classic example of statistical misrepresentation, an MIT research scientist claimed that “half of all children will be autistic by 2025”. This debunked claim ignores two key facts about the prevalence of autism. First, autism prevalence is increasing due to increased diagnosis rates. Second, changes in diagnostic criteria result in more positive diagnoses. Below are some autism statistics that paint an accurate picture of current autism rates in the US and beyond.

Current Autism Rates in the US

One of the best resources for US autism statistics is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In particular, the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. A 2021 CDC report shows that 2.3 percent of children in the US have autism. This equates to one in every 44 children, taking estimates from 11 sites in the ADDM Network. 

While these autism statistics come with many caveats, it’s clear that ASD is far more prevalent than estimates back in 2000 suggested, but the rise in ASD is likely the result of more precise testing methods and an increase in the number of kids who undergo testing. that the definition of autism has gotten bigger and now includes more people and behaviors than it used to. This means that more people are now eligible for an autism diagnosis than ever before (fig 1). Some experts think that this increase might also be due to cultural shifts towards applying medical labels to ourselves and others and interpreting less severe troubles and differences as medical problems. So while there may be more people being diagnosed with autism these days, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different factors at play here.

autism statistics in 2023. picture is a graph displaying new populations have become eligible for an autism diagnosis as time has passed.
Fig 1. New populations have become eligible for an autism diagnosis as time has passed. Graph from Russell (2020). The Rise of Autism: Risk and Resistance in the Age of Diagnosis (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429285912
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Taking a closer look at the 11 states in the report, we can see that California has a higher prevalence of ASD. California ASD rates are 3.89 percent – higher than the US average and more than twice Missouri’s 1.65 percent. Since California was also the state with the earliest ASD identification rates, this may help increase diagnosis rates. The widespread engagement of pediatricians in an extensive research program was also a factor as was a network of dedicated regional centers in the San Diego area. An experienced professional can give a reliable autism diagnosis before age two. That said, most children don’t receive a diagnosis until after the age of four

Gender, Race, and Socioeconomic Factors

The same CDC report found that ASD was 4.2 times more prevalent in boys than in girls. Although, a 2017 meta-analysis of 54 studies involving over 53,000 children found that the male-to-female odds ratio (MFOR) is closer to 3:1 than the 4:1 usually cited. The researchers also noticed that higher-quality studies tended to have a lower MFOR. We can conclude from this study that ASD is likely more common in girls than often assumed. 

CDC data suggest that autism prevalence is similar across racial and ethnic groups. Although, there were a few exceptions. For example, there was a higher ASD prevalence for American Indian/Alaska Natives compared to White children. Hispanic children showed a lower ASD prevalence than Black and White children. Socioeconomic factors also come into play when looking at current autism rates in the US. A higher socioeconomic status (SES) correlates with a higher ASD prevalence. This is likely because families with a lower SES often have less access to the services necessary for an ASD diagnosis and treatment. 

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Autism Statistics Around the World

ASD is becoming more prevalent in the States, but how common is autism throughout the world in general? The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around one in 100 children has autism, although experts believe that the actual figure is much higher. With no uniform assessment criteria, it’s challenging to compare rates of autism worldwide. Even if there were standardized tests, many nations lack assessment resources or do not report autism rates. 

Fig 2. Graph of the number of autism studies done per country. There is just not enough data analyze trends.
Fig 2. Graph of the number of autism studies done per country.

This systematic review into global autism prevalence in 2022 highlighted this difficulty while gathering data from 34 countries. The findings suggest that the global prevalence of ASD is around 1.2 percent. Although in Western Pacific regions, the average is a little over 2 percent, and in South East Asia, it’s only 0.34 percent. However, it is important to note that the prevalence estimates are based on a limited number of studies (fig 2) and may not be representative of the entire population in each continent.

Additionally, there may be differences in diagnostic criteria, cultural factors, and access to healthcare services that could contribute to differences in ASD prevalence across different regions. Further research is needed to better understand the reasons behind these differences. What’s inevitable, though, is that there are no countries with no autism.

Autism Statistics for Adults

We’ve been focusing on children since most studies and research do the same. But ASD doesn’t only affect children or disappear once a person turns 18. The CDC estimates that around 2.21 percent of adults in the US have autism. Mirroring the CDC findings from the 2021 report on children with ASD, California has the most adults with ASD at a little over 700,000. 

Of the 5.44 million adults with autism, 80 percent were men. Many neurodivergent people don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood, though. This means that far more people could have autism than these figures suggest. Because a lot of research has long seen ASD through a male lens, there’s a good chance that these autism statistics misrepresent adult females. 

Potential Causes and Risk Factors

Twin studies such as this meta-analysis from 2016 show that autism has a strong genetic component. Likewise, a child has a 19 percent higher risk of ASD if an older sibling has autism. In an attempt to understand the higher prevalence of autism for males, evidence suggests that the thinner cortex within their brain structure makes men more susceptible to autism. The researchers found that female participants with autism also had thinner cortex readings. 

Although, it’s not yet clear whether a thin cortex is a symptom of autism or a potential cause. Other research into possible causes has investigated everything from maternal infection to advanced paternal age, with mixed results. Research into the link between ASD and birth complications is more convincing, though. In particular, if a baby experiences complications both during and before birth, they have a 44 percent increased risk of autism. 

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Associated Conditions and Risks

As well as presenting various signs of autism, those with ASD have a higher risk of various physical and psychological conditions. While the CDC 2021 report didn’t focus on collecting data about this, it did look at the cognitive data for the children with ASD where available. The report found that 35.2 percent have an intellectual disability (ID). This refers to an IQ below 70, as recorded at their most recent test or examination.

23% of children had an IQ of between 71 and 85. 41.7% had an IQ in the average or above average range (over 85). The same percentage of boys and girls had ID. Black children were more likely than Hispanic and White children to have an ID. Previous research shows that 40 percent of autistic children and teens have at least one anxiety disorder. For most autistic children, this was a specific phobia, although 17.4 percent have OCD and 16.6 percent have a social anxiety disorder. 

Around half of the children with ASD may also present symptoms of ADHD. There’s evidence to suggest that children with ASD may also have around a 20 percent higher risk of epilepsy. Children with ASD are more likely to experience sleep disorders, weight management issues, and gastrointestinal problems. Autistic children with these comorbidities may show more irritability, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity. 

Parents should also be aware that children with autism have a much higher chance of reporting suicidal thoughts than children without the condition. Autistic people also have a higher risk of dying from serious injuries, such as drowning or suffocation, than the average population. 

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Understanding Autism Statistics

There’s a lot to take in when trying to understand autism statistics 2023. Especially since we have a natural tendency to compare and contrast as a way of making sense of such facts and figures. But often, these comparisons force us to draw conclusions that aren’t correct, such as those made by Andrew Wakefield in his dangerously misleading 1998 study into MMR vaccines and autism. Even now, people assume that some kind of environmental factor must be causing the rise in autism. The most likely explanation is simple: the rising profile of ASD and changing diagnostic criteria are helping us see the truth at last. 


FAQ’s About Autism Statistics

How common is autism in the United States?
The CDC estimates that about 1 in 36 children in the US have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Is autism more common in boys or girls?
Autism is diagnosed in boys nearly four times more often than girls.

Does the prevalence of autism vary by race or ethnicity?
While ASD occurs in all racial and ethnic groups, minority children may be less likely to receive an early and accurate diagnosis.

What is the estimated cost of caring for a person with autism over their lifespan?
The lifetime cost of caring for an autistic individual can range from $1.4 million to $2.4 million, depending on the severity of symptoms and support needs.

What percentage of autistic adults are employed?
Sadly, a large majority of adults with autism remain unemployed or underemployed, highlighting the need for improved transition and support services.

This post was originally published on 12/07/2022. It was updated on 02/22/2024.

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