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MU autism expert says new CDC estimates reflect raised autism awareness

April 30th, 2018

Story Contact: Sheena Rice, 573-882-8353,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Last week, the Centers for Disease Control released a new report that estimates the rate of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder has increased to a rate of one in 59. This is a 15 percent increase from the 2016 estimate of one in 69 children diagnosed with autism. Stephen Kanne, professor and executive director of the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri, says the increase could be due in part to a broader definition of autism, better diagnostic efforts and national initiatives to reach underrepresented groups who might not have received services in previous years.

“This report reflects the raised awareness and great efforts being made across the country, including here in Missouri, to accurately identify and diagnose children with autism and connect them with services,” Kanne said. “This news serves as a rallying call for increased research into the underlying causes of autism and the best treatments for these kids and adults who are living with autism. We are doing this type of research and treatment every day at the Thompson Center, and this new report certainly amplifies our passion for this work.”

The Thompson Center for Autism currently is conducting research in a broad range of areas, studying genetics to determine the cause of autism and learning how biomarkers can improve early diagnosis. Additional work includes:

  • Geneticists who are working to pinpoint the cause of autism.
  • Researchers who are working with engineers to use facial recognition markers for detection and diagnosis of autism in children as young as one month old, well before there may be behavioral clues.
  • Officials from the Thompson Center for Autism who are trying new, innovative ways to effectively treat autism, including behavioral therapies such as canine and feline companionship.

The Thompson Center is one of a select group of 21 leading national research institutions seeking participants for the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, or SPARK study, an online research initiative designed to become the largest autism study ever undertaken in the United States. Sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, SPARK will collect information and DNA for genetic analysis from 50,000 individuals with autism — and their families — to advance scientists’ understanding of the causes of this condition and hasten the discovery of supports and treatments.

Anyone interested in learning more about SPARK or participating can visit, or call Amanda Shocklee at 573-884-6092.

The Thompson Center is a national leader in confronting the challenges of autism and other developmental conditions through its collaborative research, training and service programs. Based on the medical home model, MU Thompson Center diagnostic, assessment and treatment services emphasize family-centered care that is comprehensive, coordinated, compassionate, culturally sensitive and accessible. The center aims to support families from the point of initial contact through access to needed services in the community with routine follow-up care over time to ensure the best possible outcome for each child and family.

Editor’s note: Kanne is pronounced “Can-ee”