HealthDay News — Changes in the autism survey are likely responsible for the apparent increase of autism diagnoses in the U.S., according to study findings published in the CDC’s National Health Statistics Reports.

More than 11,000 families were asked to complete the survey in 2014. They were asked about one child in their household between ages 3 and 17. The parents were asked if a health professional ever told them that their child had autism, Asperger’s disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, or autism spectrum disorder.

Slightly more than 2% of parents answered yes. That works out to about 1 in 45 children, the researchers said. Previous surveys have asked similar numbers of parents whether a doctor or health professional said their child had any conditions from a long list including autism spectrum disorder. Some of the other conditions on the list included Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, diabetes, arthritis, and heart conditions. About 1.25% of parents said their child had autism spectrum disorder in the earlier surveys. That’s around 1 in 80 children, the CDC said.

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“Probably the most important finding of this paper, which is hardly new, is that how one asks a question matters,” Glen Elliott, MD, PhD, chief psychiatrist and medical director of the Children’s Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif., told HealthDay. “The CDC spends considerable time appropriately emphasizing that the total number of individuals in the three categories covered — intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders, and developmental disability —has not changed,” Elliott explained. He added that what did change was the distribution among those groups.


  1. Zablotsky B, Black LI, Maenner MJ, et al. Estimated prevalence of autism and other developmental disabilities following questionnaire changes in the 2014 National Health Interview Survey. National health statistics reports. 2015; (87); Published November 13, 2015.