The impact of comorbidity of intellectual disability on estimates of autism prevalence among children enrolled in US special education [article]

Andrew Polyak, Richard M Kubina, Santhosh Girirajan
2014 bioRxiv   pre-print
Objectives: While recent studies suggest a converging role for genetic factors towards risk for nosologically distinct disorders including autism, intellectual disability (ID), and epilepsy, current estimates of autism prevalence fail to take into account the impact of comorbidity of these neurodevelopmental disorders on autism diagnosis. We aimed to assess the effect of potential comorbidity of ID on the diagnosis and prevalence of autism by analyzing 11 years of special education enrollment
more » ... ta. Design: Population study of autism using the United States special education enrollment data from years 2000-2010. Setting: US special education. Participants: We analyzed 11 years (2000 to 2010) of longitudinal data on approximately 6.2 million children per year from special education enrollment. Results: We found a 331% increase in the prevalence of autism from 2000 to 2010 within special education, potentially due to a diagnostic recategorization from frequently comorbid features like ID. In fact, the decrease in ID prevalence equaled an average of 64.2% of the increase of autism prevalence for children aged 3-18 years. The proportion of ID cases potentially undergoing recategorization to autism was higher (p=0.007) among older children (75%) than younger children (48%). Some US states showed significant negative correlations between the prevalence of autism compared to that of ID while others did not, suggesting differences in state-specific health policy to be a major factor in categorizing autism. Conclusions: Our results suggest that current ascertainment practices are based on a single facet of autism-specific clinical features and do not consider associated comorbidities that may confound diagnosis. Longitudinal studies with detailed phenotyping and deep molecular genetic analyses are necessary to completely understand the cause of this complex disorder. Future studies of autism prevalence should also take these factors into account.
doi:10.1101/011528 fatcat:hz5vsvauefgyllyhe7fr44cd4m