Public Health Monitoring of Developmental Disabilities with a Focus on the Autism Spectrum Disorders

Catherine E. Rice, D. Schendel, C. Cunniff, N. Doernberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Developmental disabilities (DDs) are conditions characterized by physical, cognitive, psychological, sensory, adaptive, and/or communication impairments manifested during development. Approximately 17% of individuals in the United States 18 years and younger have a DD, and for most children the cause of their condition is unknown. Of particular interest are the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), characterized by unusual social, communication, and behavioral development. Previously autism was thought to be a rare condition, but the number of children receiving services for an ASD has increased dramatically in the last decade. Concerns about increases in DDs, particularly ASDs, their causes, and the high costs of intervention have highlighted the need for systematic public health monitoring. Service provider data, such as annual reporting of special education services or of state DD programs, do not provide a complete estimate of the rates for DDs, including ASDs. Unlike genetic metabolic disorders or congenital hearing loss (HL) for which newborn screening programs can provide accurate prevalence rates, there are currently no genetic or biologic markers for the ASDs to enable consistent and early identification of affected children. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Metropolitan Atlanta Developmental Disabilities Surveillance Program (MADDSP) is a model for population monitoring of ASDs/DDs that has been implemented in other states. This article discusses the role of ASD/DD tracking in public health, as well as the challenges of ASD/DD tracking, including case definition and identification, associated conditions, linkages, and data access.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-27
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics - Seminars in Medical Genetics
Volume125 C
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 15 2004


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Monitoring
  • Public health
  • Surveillance
  • Tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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