July 13, 2023 – Nearly 9 out of every 100 U.S. children are now diagnosed with a developmental disability, according to updated figures from the CDC.
Developmental disabilities include autism, intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome, and a range of other diagnoses related to missing developmental milestones in how a child plays, learns, or speaks.
The newly reported increase amounts to just over 1 percentage point from 2019 to 2021. In 2019, the rate of developmental disability diagnoses was about 7 in 100 children. The latest figures are from 2021 data, published this week after the CDC finished analyzing responses to the National Health Survey.
Among children ages 3 to 17 years old in 2021, the survey showed that:
- 1.7% had an intellectual disability
- 3.1% had autism spectrum disorder
- 6.1% had a diagnosis of “other developmental delay”
No significant change was seen from 2019 to 2021 in how common it was for survey respondents to report children having autism or an intellectual disability. The overall increase was driven by a jump in reports from parents that a doctor or health professional told them their child had “any other developmental delay,” excluding autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual disability.
“A lot of times developmental delays might be temporary diagnoses that evolve into something like autism, potentially, or intellectual disability. But also a lot of times children do age out of those," lead report author and CDC statistician Benjamin Zablotsky, PhD, told CBS News.
The CDC offers an app called Milestone Tracker to help parents watch for signs of developmental delays, in addition to operating a public health education program called “Learn the Signs. Act Early.”
The new report showed that boys were nearly twice as likely as girls to have any developmental delay, a pattern that was magnified when looking specifically at autism diagnoses. Boys were more than three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The rate of autism among boys was 4.7%, compared to 1.5% among girls.
While these latest survey results showed consistent rates of autism from 2019 to 2021, a different CDC report earlier this year showed an alarming jump in the rate of autism spectrum disorder among 8-year-olds. That report, which compared data from 2008 to 2020, showed the rate of autism among 8-year-olds rose during those 12 years from 1 in 88 kids to 1 in 36 kids.
The two analyses also differed in their findings regarding prevalence of autism when looking at children by race and ethnicity. The report from earlier this year showed that Black and Hispanic children were more likely to be diagnosed with autism, compared to White children. This latest report did not find any differences in the prevalence of autism based on a child’s race or ethnicity.