HRSA-led study estimates 1 in 40 U.S. children has diagnosed autism

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Health Resources and Services Administration
Monday, November 26

A new study led by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) found that about 1.5 million U.S. children — or 1 in 40 — have received a diagnosis of, and currently have, autism spectrum disorder. Published in Pediatrics HRSA Exit Disclaimer, the analysis used data collected from parents of more than 50,000 children from the 2016 HRSA National Survey of Children's Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Harvard University, Drexel University, and George Washington University contributed to the study.

Previous research has shown that autism diagnoses have increased in children over the past 20 years.

"Through the National Survey of Children's Health, our study provides the most recent nationally representative data on both the prevalence of autism and some of the challenges families face obtaining care," said lead author Michael D. Kogan, Ph.D., of HRSA's Maternal and Child Health Bureau. "This new information improves our capacity to understand and address autism, a complex neurological disorder."

The authors examined data on children aged 3-17 years. In addition to the new information on prevalence, they found that over a quarter of children with autism were taking medication for symptoms, and nearly two-thirds received behavioral treatments in the last 12 months. Parents reported that their children with autism were significantly less likely to get needed mental health care compared to children with other emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions.

Funded and led by HRSA, the National Survey of Children’s Health produces national and state data every year from thousands of voluntary interview responses collected from parents. It provides one of the largest samples of child health representing all of the United States.

"The findings from this study help us better understand the characteristics and complexities of autism," said Stuart Shapira, M.D., Associate Director for Science at CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "This information can help lead to better access to early intervention services and support for children with autism and their families."

The HRSA National Survey of Children's Health released 2017 data in October 2018. To learn more, visit

Date Last Reviewed:  November 2018