Columbia, South Carolina — As new data presented last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed a significant rise in childhood autism diagnoses, particularly among minority populations that have experienced disparities in access to early screening, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is encouraging citizens to take advantage of innovative DHEC programs that help parents learn the signs of healthy childhood development.
According to reports from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network used by the CDC, one in 36 8-year-old children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The data shows a rise in the prevalence of ASD from the CDC’s 2018 estimate of 1 in 44 children.
Another alarming trend the data revealed was a 30 percent rise in autism diagnoses from 2018-2020 in minority communities that have experienced health disparities. For the first time, the percentage of Asian, Black and Hispanic children identified with autism was higher than among 8-year-old White children. According to the CDC, this shift may reflect improved screening, awareness and access to services among underserved groups.
A second CDC report showed that 4-year-old children were less likely to have an evaluation or be identified with ASD than 8-year-old children when they were the same age. This change in the diagnosis rate in younger children is attributed to COVID-19’s interruptions in childcare and healthcare services.
“While diagnosis through traditional means slowed due to the impacts of COVID-19, DHEC joined the CDC in filling the gap in assisting parents with early detection of autism and other developmental delays and disabilities via a new program at the start of 2022,” said Berry Kelly, WIC Services Director. “This effort is playing a crucial role in assisting parents in providing parents with resources they need to track their children’s developmental progress.”
In January 2022, DHEC’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC, began implementing a Developmental Milestone Checklist program as part of the CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. Program. As part of the program, parents complete a milestone checklist by paper or through the milestone tracker app.
By monitoring their children’s milestones using the simple checklist, parents can identify what skills are typical at certain ages. The tracker also aids parents to recognize when to act if they have concerns or if there are signs of possible developmental delay or disability.
As of Aug. 1, 2022, a total of 36,301 checklists were completed through DHEC’s WIC program, generating 246 referrals for developmental screenings. Additionally, WIC participants completed 2,894 Milestones Matter e-learning lessons, giving participants additional insight on important monitoring milestones and tips to support healthy development.
DHEC is committed to working to eliminate health disparities in South Carolina to give all South Carolinians the opportunity to attain optimal health outcomes. These efforts include a focus on expecting parents, infants, and children, to support healthier head starts early in life.
“In safeguarding the health of low-income women, infants and children, WIC is an excellent example of a program that serves people who have been underserved in South Carolina,” Kelly said. “As we continue our Developmental Milestone Checklist program, we hope to assist parents who may not have had access to resources like developmental screenings in the past.”
To learn more about WIC, visit scdhec.gov/wic. To learn more about the CDC’s Milestone Tracker, visit cdc.gov/actearly.