This study determined the prevalence of autism for a defined community, Brick Township, New Jersey, using current diagnostic and epidemiologic methods.
The target population was children who were 3 to 10 years of age in 1998, who were residents of Brick Township at any point during that year, and who had an autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder was defined as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger disorder. The study used 4 sources for active case finding: special education records, records from local clinicians providing diagnosis or treatment for developmental or behavioral disabilities, lists of children from community parent groups, and families who volunteered for participation in the study in response to media attention. The autism diagnosis was verified (or ruled out) for 71% of the children through clinical assessment. The assessment included medical and developmental history, physical and neurologic evaluation, assessment of intellectual and behavioral functioning, and administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule—Generic.
The prevalence of all autism spectrum disorders combined was 6.7 cases per 1000 children. The prevalence for children whose condition met full diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder was 4.0 cases per 1000 children, and the prevalence for PDD-NOS and Asperger disorder was 2.7 cases per 1000 children. Characteristics of children with autism in this study were similar to those in previous studies of autism.
The prevalence of autism in Brick Township seems to be higher than that in other studies, particularly studies conducted in the United States, but within the range of a few recent studies in smaller populations that used more thorough case-finding methods.