New Autism Map Suggests Severe Lack of Autism Diagnostic Centers in U.S.
Over 80% of counties in the United States lack diagnostic centers for autism, according to a new online database. Known as GapMap, the database displays about 20,000 resources, including autism therapy clinics, educational supports, and diagnostic centers.
One professional tackling the problem is Dennis Wall, a lead researcher and associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical data science at Stanford University. “We need to do something about it,” Wall has said regarding the lack of diagnostic centers for autism, according to a report last month by Spectrum News. Solutions recommended by Wall include training more developmental specialists and performing diagnostic evaluations through video or other technology. Wall says GapMap may help experts identify the regions most in need of specific autism services. To create GapMap, Wall and his team explored three online databases of autism resources: Autism Society, Autism Speaks, and Parents Helping Parents. Using this data, as well as data gathered from the online database Google Places, the researchers created GapMap, an interactive map of autism resources.
The map found that, while there are numerous specialists near East Coast cities such as Boston and Washington, D.C., the Midwest and West have very few autism resources by comparison. Specifically, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Maine have the fewest resources relative to their population, while Montana, Connecticut, Colorado, and Rhode Island have the most. The findings of the study were published in July 2019 in the Journal of Internet Medical Research. According to Spectrum, the researchers grouped the resources into seven categories, including therapy, education, and diagnosis. Therapy comprised 41% of the resources, while diagnostic centers made up only 9%.
The researchers estimated the population of autistic adults in the U.S. at 5.5. million, based on 2016 census data and the national autism prevalence of 1 in 59 people (the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control). They then mapped points representing these autistic people in each county, based on that county’s population density, although they did not take into account the fact that autism prevalence varies in the U.S. from region to region.
Ultimately, the simulation found that the availability of autism resources varies widely across the United States. For example, people with autism in Alaska may need to travel 63 miles to the nearest resource, while people in Nevada must travel over 30 miles, and people in New Jersey only 2. Wall believes that the study “really highlights the importance of replacing simulated data with real data.”
For their next step, the researchers hope to create a portal that would allow people with autism to report their location, thereby allowing the team to improve the accuracy of the map. They also plan to update the map with newly identified service providers and have created a map of autism services in Bangladesh, where Wall’s team is testing a video-based diagnostic tool.