Objectives: To estimate the national prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis among US children aged 3 to 17 years as well as their treatment and health care experiences using the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH).
Methods: The 2016 NSCH is a nationally representative survey of 50 212 children focused on the health and well-being of children aged 0 to 17 years. The NSCH collected parent-reported information on whether children ever received an ASD diagnosis by a care provider, current ASD status, health care use, access and challenges, and methods of treatment. We calculated weighted prevalence estimates of ASD, compared health care experiences of children with ASD to other children, and examined factors associated with increased likelihood of medication and behavioral treatment.
Results: Parents of an estimated 1.5 million US children aged 3 to 17 years (2.50%) reported that their child had ever received an ASD diagnosis and currently had the condition. Children with parent-reported ASD diagnosis were more likely to have greater health care needs and difficulties accessing health care than children with other emotional or behavioral disorders (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, behavioral or conduct problems, depression, developmental delay, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, learning disability, Tourette syndrome) and children without these conditions. Of children with current ASD, 27% were taking medication for ASD-related symptoms, whereas 64% received behavioral treatments in the last 12 months, with variations by sociodemographic characteristics and co-occurring conditions.
Conclusions: The estimated prevalence of US children with a parent-reported ASD diagnosis is now 1 in 40, with rates of ASD-specific treatment usage varying by children's sociodemographic and co-occurring conditions.