Is Autism Overdiagnosed? Here's The Truth

Is autism on the rise and affecting individuals in record numbers, or is there a problem with how people are diagnosed? Find out if autism is being overdiagnosed in adults and/or kids.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Key Takeaways - Why is Everyone Autistic Now?

  1. Researches say the changing criteria for autism may be resulting in an "autism overdiagnosis".
  2. Some experts say that better diagnostic methods are simply recognizing autism in more individuals, as well as at a younger age.
  3. If individuals are diagnosed at an earlier age, that gives medical professionals more time to begin treatments for autism, such as ABA therapy.
  4. Autism is identified more now than in the past, and some wonder whether it's being overdiagnosed.

Is Autism Overdiagnosed?

Did you know that autism prevalence has increased 178% since 2000? Unfortunately, around 1 in 44 children in the U.S. have autism. The million dollar question is: is autism being overdiagnosed? The answer is: it's complicated.

boys vs girls autism prevalence

There was a time when autism was something you only heard about. Nowadays, there's a high chance you know someone diagnosed with autism, or there may be some kids in your child's class at school who have autism. There's a chance you or your child are autistic.

Two factors that might account for the increased diagnosis rates are:

  1. Growth in autism awareness
  2. New diagnostic criteria

Some experts believe that better diagnostic methods are allowing us to find autism in more individuals, as well as at a younger age. However, other experts disagree and say that it's possible autism is being overdiagnosed.

Why is Autism Diagnosed More Often Now?  

There are several reasons why autism is diagnosed more often now then in the past.

  1. There's a new understanding of autism
  2. There’s more support available to help autistic kids thrive
  3. Diagnosis may be rushed
  4. Autism may have been underdiagnosed in the past

How Has Autism Diagnosis Changed?

The diagnostic process has changed a lot over the last several decades, and the changes may have contributed to the increased autism rates.

In the 1940s, autism was first identified as occurring in children. Now experts can recognize autism in individuals of all ages.

autism intervention and support

A 2015 study in Denmark showed that changed actices could account for up to 60% of the increase in autism diagnosis in children born between the years 1980 and 1991.

The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has reclassified several previously separate conditions under the umbrella of "autism spectrum disorder (ASD)".

  1. Autistic disorder
  2. Asperger syndrome
  3. Childhood disintegrative disorder
  4. Pervasive developmental disorder not other specified (PDD-NOS)

Can Autism Be Misdiagnosed?

Yes, it's possible for an autism misdiagnosis to occur. For example, an allistic person may be mistakenly identified as autistic. A person can also be diagnosed with a different disorder when they actually should be diagnosed as autistic.

Below are a few characteristics occasionally confused with autism:

  1. Speech delays
  2. Developmental delays
  3. Early reading
  4. Specialized interests
  5. Hearing problems

Sometimes people with other psychological diagnoses might have traits of autism, such as:

  1. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  3. Schizophrenia
  4. Avoidant personality disorder

Individuals with lead poisoning may also mimic the developmental delays that someone with autism might experience.

Have Rates Of Autism Diagnosis Increased?

Data from the CDC show an increasing trend in autism prevalence between 2000 and 2018. As shown in the table below, these numbers make it clear that autism is being diagnosed more, but the cause is not clear.

Surveillance yearBirth yearDiagnosis rate
200019921 in 150
200219941 in 150
200419961 in 125
200619981 in 110
200820001 in 88
201020021 in 68
201220041 in 69
201420061 in 59
201620081 in 54
201820101 in 44


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents