An estimated  one in 77 Arkansas children are identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to a new report by the Arkansas Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (AR ADDM) Program of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

The new Arkansas numbers are based on information collected from health and special education records of almost 40,000 8-year old children living in Arkansas in 2014.  They are the first numbers statewide since a 2010 count and are part of national data released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was gathered from the national ADDM network. The 2010 count estimated that one in 65 Arkansas children were identified with autism. The current estimate still could be as high as 1 in 64 (1.6 percent), accounting for records that were not located for review.

The Arkansas monitoring program includes investigators with UAMS and operates in collaboration with the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Education to track the number and characteristics of 8-year-olds with ASD and/or intellectual disability. 

The AR ADDM data found that boys are 3.8 times more likely to be identified with autism than girls. Also, white children are significantly more likely to be identified with ASD than black or Hispanic children. In Arkansas, autism was 30 percent more likely to be identified in white children than in black children and 70 percent more likely to be identified in white children than in Hispanic children. Of children identified as ASD cases based on record review, about 92 percent had developmental concerns by age 3, but only 31 percent had received a comprehensive developmental evaluation by 3.

“As in the overall ADDM Network, Arkansas has a lag between first concern about a child’s development and an autism diagnosis,” said Maya Lopez, M.D., associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. “We should use this information to promote developmental screening in health and educational providers statewide and to connect these children with appropriate services.” 

UAMS’ Dennis Developmental Center and Schmieding Developmental Center, both in the College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, offer diagnostic multidisciplinary team evaluations for children with developmental and behavioral concerns from birth to 21 years of age.

The Arkansas monitoring program’s findings also can be used to inform educational outreach initiatives, specially those targeting minority and underserved populations to promote early identification, plan for services and training, guide future ASD research and inform policies promoting improved health outcomes for individuals with the disorder.

AR ADDM provides individualized presentations on the number and characteristics of children with ASD to state and community agencies.  The Arkansas monitoring program also co-sponsors educational events for families and educators, such as the Team Up state conference on autism, and collaborates on developmental disabilities awareness events such as Arkansas Walk Now for Autism Speaks.