By: Alexander Smith
November 21 2022
Autism diagnosis rates have increased from 1 in 2,500 in 1966 to 1 in 44 today due to improvements in medical understanding and awareness of ASD.
Multiple Twitter accounts have tweeted identical claims that autism rates have increased from 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 68 children. One tweet has received over 5,000 retweets and 23,000 likes, with responses including references to Big Pharma and anti-vax conspiracy theories, claiming that the increased rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses in children has been caused intentionally by pharmaceutical companies cooperating with governments.
A 2017 article published in Scientific American quotes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research from 2014 when figures showed the rate of ASD diagnoses in the U.S. at 1 in 68 children. However, the latest CDC figures show that ASD is currently identified at a rate of 1 in 44 children, an increase from the 2014 figures.
The viral tweet mentions a previous diagnosis rate of 1 in 3,000, which is close to the truth. Scientific American says that "In 1966, researchers estimated that about 1 in 2,500 children had autism." However, diagnosis rates have increased since then due to an improved understanding of the symptoms of autism and related disorders within the medical community. Increased awareness of ASD among the wider public also plays a role. Scientific American says that parents' increased awareness of the signs and symptoms of ASD leads them to seek a diagnosis for their children. Increased diagnosis rates can also be attributed to social changes. Children born to older fathers and children born prematurely are at increased risk of autism, and advances in medical care mean that more premature infants survive than they did in the past.
A further explanation for the increased prevalence of autism diagnosis is its recognition within the medical community, as "Autism didn't make its debut in the DSM until 1980," Since then, its definition has been broadened in each subsequent edition. "The current version, the DSM-5, was released in 2013, and collapsed autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified into a single diagnosis."
Responses to the viral tweets include references to conspiracy theories like Big Pharma and COVID denial, which both suggest that autism is caused by vaccines, which has caused the increased rate of ASD in children. Numerous studies have been carried out exploring the link between autism and vaccines and have found no connection. This is corroborated by the CDC, the U.K.'s NHS, and the National Autistic Society.
The proportion of children diagnosed with ASD in the U.S. is 1 in 44, according to current CDC figures. This is due to refinements in how autism is defined and diagnosed, as well as improved public understanding and awareness of autism. The figures stated in this claim are incorrect, and we have marked this claim as false.