CDC estimates 2.2 percent of adults in U.S. have autism

May 13, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first study to estimate the prevalence of autism in U.S. adults age 18 and older. Findings estimate autism affects 1 in 45, or 2.21 percent, of U.S. adults. Earlier this year, the CDC released an estimate that 1 in 54, or 1.85 percent, of children in the U.S. has autism.

“This report, which is consistent with what we know about prevalence in children, helps to fill a critical gap in knowledge about how many adults in the U.S. have autism,” said Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Thomas W. Frazier, PhD. “With this knowledge, all of us in the autism community can be better equipped to figure out the programs and services that communities need to support autistic adults – a key focus of our mission at Autism Speaks.”

“The data can also help states understand the specific needs of their communities and allow us to better provide for the roughly one-third of autistic adults – about 2 million people – who may need significant support beyond their childhood years,” Frazier added.

The U.S. does not have a system to monitor adult autism prevalence, so the CDC used a mathematical model based on state data for children ages 3 to 17 and responses to the National Survey on Children’s Health. The model is also adjusted for higher mortality rates among people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  The study was published online May 10 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Additional takeaways from the report include:

  • Autism prevalence in adults varied by region. The prevalence of U.S. adults with ASD ranged from a low of 1.97 percent in Louisiana to a high of 2.42 percent in Massachusetts. The states with the greatest estimated number of adults living with ASD included California, Texas, New York and Florida.
  • Prevalence is higher in men (3.6 percent) than women (0.86 percent), similar to gender differences in child prevalence estimates. 
  • Although autism can be reliably diagnosed around age 15 months, many people are not diagnosed until later in life, one reason why the prevalence among adults may appear to be slightly higher than in children.

Supporting people with autism at all life stages is central to the mission of Autism Speaks. The organization is working tirelessly to fuel research that would allow earlier diagnosis and intervention; advocacy with and for the autism community to ensure access to care and services throughout the life span; and programs and services that support adult transition and allow our constituents to reach their full potential. 

In 2019, Autism Speaks funded $2.6 million in grants for research into programs and services that support the transition to adulthood. Autism Speaks also hosted a Thought Leadership Summit on Transition to Adulthood on Oct. 2-3, 2019, in Washington, D.C. The two-day meeting featured facilitated discussions around research needs for employment, education, as well as access to needed services including healthcare, transportation and housing for teens and adults with autism. 

The Autism Response Team is available to respond to questions at 1-888-AUTISM2 (1-888-288-4762), en Español at 1-888-772-9050 and via email at help@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks also offers the following resources for adults on the spectrum:  

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You can also reach the Autism Response Team by phone or email: 888-288-4762, en Espanol 888-772-7050, or help@autismspeaks.org.