Rates of autism continue to increase in the U.S., with the latest estimates showing that 1 in 30, or 3.49%, of children ages 3 to 17 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2020.1The data, gathered in 2019 and 2020, came from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), and revealed that out of 12,554 children surveyed in 2019 and 2020, 410 were diagnosed with autism.2
The overall prevalence of autism in 2019 was 2.79%, increasing to 3.49% in 2020, which represents a 53% increase since 2017.3The study also revealed that autism prevalence increased from 2014 to 2016, decreased from 2016 to 2017, and then increased from 2017 to 2020.4 The stark rise in autism rates in the U.S. is difficult to ignore, but what’s driving the increase remains a mystery.
Are Higher Vaccination Rates Involved?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts out an estimated autism rate every four years, but the data looks primarily at higher-income families, which could lead to underestimates of the true autism rate. The NHIS data is more accurate, because it included data from lower-income families, revealing that the rate of autism in lower-income families is higher than in higher-income families.
“I think it’s stunning that there’s a statistically significant difference [showing] that the higher levels of autism are now being diagnosed in those with lower income,” said Brian Hooker, Ph.D., chief science adviser at Children’s Health Defense. “It’s interesting because it’s something that we suspected all along, but we haven’t seen it quantified like this.”5
It’s possible that the difference is showing up because more children in schools with lower-income demographics are being diagnosed with autism so they can access services, according to Children’s Health Defense, but it’s also known that lower-income families tend to have higher vaccination rates than higher-income families.
“You do have to wonder about vaccination rates because higher-income families tend to vaccinate less,” Hooker said.6
The CDC denies any link between vaccines and autism, but in 2010, the federal vaccine court conceded that Hannah Poling’s autism was the result of vaccinations, which “significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder.”7