University of Minnesota joins nationwide autism study

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The University of Minnesota is joining a national study that aims to get a more accurate picture of how many children in the U.S. have autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday it will give the university $450,000 a year for four years to collect information about the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among 8-year-old children in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the Star Tribune reports.

The University of Minnesota is one of two sites added to the study this year; the other addition is Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Eight other sites have already been participating in the research, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

All 10 sites will track ASD among 8-year-olds, and six sites will also track ASD among preschool-aged children, according to the CDC announcement.

This map from the CDC shows the sites participating in the study and to what extent.

Researchers hope the information collected by the 10 sites, collectively called the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, will lead to earlier and more accurate diagnosis of autism disorders in children.

In Minnesota, researchers have studied the presence of autism spectrum disorders in immigrant communities as well, particularly the Somali population, to see if children from those backgrounds are more likely to have autism.

Participation in the CDC research will help with that effort, according to Dr. Amy Hewitt, a researcher and project director at the U’s Institute on Community Integration.

"Knowing this can help Minnesota better plan for services," Hewitt said, according to KSTP. She added that leaders from the Somali and Hmong communities, as well as others, will be involved in the project locally.

What is autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States and typically appears in early childhood, usually before the age of 3. There is no cure, however intensive and early treatment can make a big difference in many children’s lives. Although it’s the fastest-growing developmental disorder, it’s also the most underfunded, the Huffington Post says.

The CDC says boys are almost five times more likely to be identified with autism than girls – about one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls were identified with autism spectrum disorder, the study showed.

Here are a few resources in Minnesota with more information about autism spectrum disorder.

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