LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) — Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points to a rise in the prevalence of autism in children.  

About one in 36 children were identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in 2020, according to the CDC. This is up from one in 44 in 2018 and one in 150 in 2000. It also shows prevalence among different groups of individuals is now relatively similar. 

Dr. Amanda Kelly is the president and CEO of Firefly Autism, an organization in Colorado that provides support and services to those with autism and their families. 

“We really just want to make sure people celebrate the uniqueness of autism and the beauty of autism and understand more about it,” Kelly said. 

Data from the CDC suggests autism rates have been increasing steadily for more than two decades, as shown in a report from USAFacts. Kelly said it could be attributed to the increased awareness and improved screening for autism. 

“Really the answer is that we continuously learn and grow in terms of the sensitivity of the diagnostic process and awareness and education of people in the community,” Kelly said. “So what we always say is those individuals were always there, it’s just that they weren’t being identified as being on the autism spectrum before.”  

She said the organization has also seen a rise in the number of teens and adults being diagnosed, but early identification is key.

“If a child gets a diagnosis at six, there’s some key years at the start of life where the brain is extremely malleable and flexible and there’s this exponential learning that happens in early years, so if you miss that the rate of learning slows,” Kelly said.

So how do you know if your child should be tested?  

“Autism is so different and unique, it doesn’t look the same for everyone. So, having these broad brushstrokes to say what autism is or isn’t, it’s just not helpful,” Kelly said. “The key thing is to look for the developmental milestones that your child is supposed to be meeting and if they’re not meeting their developmental milestones, then have a conversation with your pediatrician or go to an expert like Firefly.”

Kelly said Firefly has helped more than 100 families and sees about 50 children at their office in Lakewood every week. The organization also provides early prevention services, social skills groups, adult groups and home and community-based services all over Colorado.

For the entire year of 2023, Firefly provided a free comprehensive diagnostic evaluation for one family every month. Kelly said they wouldn’t have been able to do it without community support.

For more information about Firefly Autism and how to help, visit their website.