Story at a glance

  • A new report estimates the number of American adults who live with an autism spectrum condition.
  • This is the first comprehensive study estimating the total U.S. population.

On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study that estimates about 2.2 percent of all American adults have an autism spectrum condition. 

Profiled by CNN, the report states that this would add up to about 5.4 million people aged 18 or older, resulting in 1 in 45 people. 


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"This is the first CDC study to provide estimates of the number of U.S. adults with autism and fills a gap in data on adults living with autism spectrum disorder in the United States because there is no existing surveillance system to collect this information," said the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in a statement. 

Prior to this report, there had been no empirical data aggregated to illustrate a picture of adult autism in the U.S., the CDC’s Patricia Dietz wrote in the report. This may be due to the challenges associated with testing for ASD in adults, she says. 

"There are no psychometrically validated tests of ASD for adults, which leads to uncertainty for studies using tests designed for children, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. In addition, mixed methods are likely needed in order to reach populations living independently and in group settings,” Dietz said. 

The research team who authored the study used estimates of autism among children, and projected that figure into an adult population using state data on mortality. 


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The 2.2 percent figure is an estimate, however. It is subject to change based on unknown and missing data.

Still, this new information about an underreported population can help adults on the autism spectrum have access to the resources and support they need.

"The findings from this study can help states determine the need for diagnosing and providing services to adults in the United States who remain unidentified with ASD," the CDC said. 

According to Autism Speaks, about 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with ASD. An estimated 7 percent of children and 26 percent of adults with ASD also reportedly have depression.

Moreover, many young adults with autism reportedly don’t receive health care for several years after they stop seeing a pediatrician. Additionally, more than half of young adults with ASD remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education in the two years following high school. 


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Published on May 12, 2020