Study looks at prevalence, treatment patterns of autism spectrum disorder

Published on December 5, 2018

A portrait of Assistant Professor Wei Bao of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Wei Bao

A new study from researchers at the University of Iowa shows that while autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is relatively prevalent among U.S. children aged 3-17 years, a large number of them don’t receive any type of treatment. The study was published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and found that 2.8% of the 43,032 children in the survey had been diagnosed with ASD and 2.5% currently had ASD. Among the children with current ASD, 29.5% never received either behavioral or medication treatments.

Wei Bao, corresponding author of the paper and assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, says that understanding who does not receive treatment for ASD can help researchers identify and eliminate barriers to treatment.

“ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with substantial lifetime burden to the individuals and families,” Bao says. “Although the causes of ASD remain unclear, there are some evidence-based therapies to treat the symptoms of ASD. Efforts should be made to ensure that children with ASD receive appropriate treatment, the earlier the better.”

According to Bao, understanding the status of ASD is just a start. “As a next step, we want to know what factors are related to the risk of ASD,” he says. “We are particularly interested in modifiable risk factors during pregnancy or in early life that may help figure out a way to reduce or prevent ASD in the future.”

The study, “Prevalence and Treatment Patterns of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States, 2016”, was first-authored by Guifeng Xu and co-authored by Lane Strathearn, Buyun Liu, Matthew O’Brien, Todd G. Kopelman, Jing Zhu, and Linda G. Snetselaar, all from the University of Iowa.

The study is available online at

Additional Media Coverage

How Many Children Have Autism? Estimates Continue to Rise (Psychology Today)

Another study finds autism in 1 in 40 children (UPI)

Another Tally Puts Autism Cases at 1 in 40 (U.S. News)

National surveys estimate U.S. autism prevalence at 1 in 40 (Spectrum)