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Autism Statistics

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In 2003 approximately 141,022 children were served under the "Autism" classification for special education services.
Autism was added as a special education exceptionality in 1991 and is now the sixth most commonly classified disability in the United States. The most common disability classifications in 2003 were:
  • Specific learning disabilities (2,866,908 children served)
  • Speech or language impairments (1,129,260 children served)
  • Mental retardation (582,663 children served)
  • Emotional disturbance (484,479 children served)
  • Other health impairments, which often includes children diagnosed with ADHD (452,442 children served).
While it is clear that more children are getting special education services for autism than ever before, it is important to remember that this classification was only added in the early 1990s, and the growth of children classified may be in part due to the addition of this as a special education category.


Although it is clear that more children than ever before are being classified as having autism, it is unclear how much of this increase is due to changes in how we identify and classify autism in people, or whether this is due to a true increase in occurrence. However, using our current standards, the autism spectrum disorders are the second most common serious developmental disability after mental retardation/intellectual impairment, but are still less common than other conditions that affect children's development, such as speech and language impairments, learning disabilities, and ADHD.
The impact of having a developmental disability is immense for the families affected and for the community services that provide intervention and support for these families. It is important that we treat common developmental disabilities as conditions of urgent public health concern, do all we can to identify children's learning needs, and begin intervention as early as possible to enable all children to reach their full potential.
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