New Report by CDC, UAMS Finds 1 in 44 Arkansas 8-Year-Olds Have Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Ben Boulden

An estimated 1 in 44, or 2.3%, of central Arkansas 8-year-olds have ASD, according to information collected by the Arkansas Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (AR ADDM) program at UAMS. The numbers are part of national data released Dec. 2 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Across all ADDM sites, 1 in 44 8-year-olds have ASD, according to the new data, which was gathered by the national ADDM network.

In the 2016 estimated count released in 2020, 1 in 66 Arkansas 8-year-olds were identified with autism and network-wide, 1 in 54.

About 1 in 84, or 1.2%, of 4-year-olds were identified with autism spectrum disorder by AR ADDM in 2018. This is the first year the prevalence of autism in 4-year-olds has been available from the monitoring program.

The new Arkansas numbers are from 2018, the latest data available. They are based on information collected from health and special education records of more than 15,000 8-year old children living in the central Arkansas tracking area.

“The Monitoring Program has and will continue to use new data to promote earlier identification of ASD and to plan services and training,” said Maya Lopez, M.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. “Some of the increase in autism prevalence may be evidence of our continued improvement in the state in diagnostic and treatment services for children with autism. That progress may in part explain the picture we have of prevalence.”

The ADDM Network findings are based on analysis of data collected from health and special education records (if available) of 8-year-old and 4-year-old children who lived in one of 11 different areas throughout the United States in 2018. One of those 11 areas includes 21 counties in a central region of Arkansas.

Estimates in the several communities ranged widely, from 1 in 60 children in Missouri to 1 in 26 children in California. Some of this variation might be due to geographic differences in early detection and evaluation, diagnostic practices and other differences in documentation of ASD symptoms.

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.

White children in Arkansas were 1.6 times more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children. The program found that per 1,000 children, 14.9 Hispanic children are diagnosed with ASD compared with 19.2 Black children and 23.8 white children.

“In Arkansas, Hispanic children were less likely to be identified with ASD than white children,” said Lopez. “Black and Hispanic children often are diagnosed and evaluated later than white children. Educational and health organizations need to sustain efforts over the long-term to reduce disparities and identify individuals with ASD as early as possible in order to provide support.”

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 12 years of age.

AR ADDM provides individualized presentations on the number and characteristics of children with ASD to state and community agencies. AR ADDM shares information on autism prevalence and characteristics of individuals with autism with the Arkansas Department of Education and health professionals across the state.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.