Principal investigators Laura Carpenter, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and Lydia King, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental Pediatrics, were awarded a three-year, $825,000 grant.
This year Autism Speaks, a national, nonprofit autism organization, has sponsored funding for the first autism prevalence study in the United States. The study will use total population sampling methods with the objectives to enhance the understanding of prevalence estimates, identify barriers to identification and characterize the needs of children across the entire autism spectrum.
This will be accomplished by conducting a screening and direct assessment study in the general population in an area already undergoing monitoring by a Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) team. Because prevalence estimates are used to guide high-impact decision-making regarding critical issues such as allocation of funds for services and research, accurate reporting of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is important to researchers, health care providers, policy makers and families.
The South Carolina ADDM team, located in the MUSC Division of Developmental Pediatrics, has conducted population-based, multiple source surveillance for children with autism spectrum disorders in South Carolina since 2000. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ADDM network has led to the report of prevalence of autism spectrum disorders that is used as the gold standard by stakeholders in the autism community.
Walter Jenner, a member of the program with the Division of Developmental Pediatrics, said understanding how many children have an autism spectrum disorder is essential to promoting awareness of this developmental disability. Knowing how many children are affected has helped educators and providers better plan and coordinate service delivery.
South Carolina ADDM, along with the entire ADDM network, have reported autism spectrum disorders for four surveillance years and an updated report is expected in March. Currently, the network has documented that about one in 110 8-year-old children have autism spectrum disorders.
Despite the concerns that prevalence is around 1 percent of children, these estimates may be conservative.
A study completed in South Korea has employed screening and direct clinical assessments in the general population and reported significantly higher prevalence estimates than ADDM.