To estimate the diagnostic prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in a low birth weight (LBW) cohort.
Participants belonged to a regional birth cohort of infants (N = 1105) born weighing <2000 g between October 1, 1984, and July 3, 1989, and followed up by periodic assessments to 21 years of age. At 16 years (n = 623), adolescents were screened for ASD using a wide net (previous professional diagnosis of an ASD or a score above a liberal cutoff on the Social Communication Questionnaire or the Autism Spectrum Symptoms Questionnaire). At 21 years (n = 189), 60% of screen positives and 24% of screen negatives were assessed for diagnoses of ASD by the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule or the Autism Diagnostic Interview–Revised.
Samples retained at ages 16 and 21 years were representative of samples assessed at earlier ages except for lower levels of social risk. Of positive screens, 11 of 70 had ASD; of negative screens, 3 of 119 had ASD. The fractions of the 2 screening groups with ASD (14.3% in screen-positives and 2.5% in screen negatives) were weighted by fractions of screen-positives and screen-negatives among the adolescents (18.8% and 81.2%, respectively). This calculation produced an estimated prevalence rate of ASD in the entire cohort of 5% (31 of 623).
The diagnostic prevalence of ASD in this LBW preterm cohort was higher than that reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 8-year-olds in the general US population in 2006.