1 in 36 is the latest prevalence number for Autism Spectrum Disorders. These current numbers come from the Center for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network or ADDM (pronounced “Adam”). 

graphic is property of the CDC and indicates ADDM sites across the US

graphic is property of the CDC and indicates ADDM sites across the US

Autism Spectrum Disorder is considered a developmental disability that is diagnosed using specific social/communication and behavioral criteria. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V or DSM-V updated the criteria for Autism. Previously, Autism was diagnosed as a triad of symptoms (social, behavior and communication) and was further broken into categories that included: Rett’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.  With the updated DSM-V, PDD-NOS and Asperger’s Syndrome were dropped. Rett’s remained and a likert scale of “autism” symptoms was created. Individuals receive a score of a 1, 2 or 3 to indicate the level of severity of their symptoms as opposed to the former Asperger or PDD-NOS labels. (Please note that many in the Autism community continue to use Asperger or Aspie to self-identify). 

Why the change in diagnostic criteria? As more and more was being learned about autism, it was thought that the change in the criteria would further help doctors make an accurate diagnosis. For instance, a child who received a PDD-NOS diagnosis did not always “match” all the criteria for the overarching triad of symptoms.  PDD-NOS was sometimes a catch-all category of “not quite sure, maybe autism, maybe something else”. While some individuals may present with social and/or communication deficits, it was thought that they may not all have autism. This new diagnostic criteria could help sort this out. Has the change settled the numbers? In 2000, 1 in 150 was the prevalence for autism. By the time the criteria was changed, the numbers were 1 in 69 (2012) and 1 in 59 (2014).  Today, the prevalence is 1 in 36.

It has been a decade since the DSM-V was published. Physicians and researchers have indicated that ten years would be needed to shake out the numbers and see how the changes affect the numbers. So, what about these latest numbers and where/how they were found?  ADDM has eleven sites across the United states. The researchers review data on children who are 4 and 8 years old and diagnosed with autism. The information in the graphics below outline the information gleaned from the 2020 four and eight year old studies by the ADDM. 

4yr old autism numbers
8yr old autism numbers

What do these numbers mean to those of us in education? The simple answer is that autism is still increasing and the need to support students with autism remains. Autism impacts social relationships, the ability to communicate effectively with others and presents a wide variety of behaviors. Do the programs, services and resources offer cover the wide range of social/communication and behavior needs? As we move into April these questions are at the forefront of the autism communities Autism Acceptance month activities. No longer do we wish to make people aware of those with autism, we strive that everyone accepts the person for who they are.  In our spaces,it is critical to ask ourselves if  we have created a community of educators, students and families who embrace the beauty of the differences we all bring to the table and seek to include all. 

Information in this post was found on the CDC website:




Kari Kessler

Project Consultant