There are more U.S. kids being identified as having autism than there were just a few years ago. The rising autism rates don’t necessarily indicate there are more kids with autism, in fact, the increase in rates could have a silver lining.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1.7% of 8-year-olds of kids in 11 communities across the U.S. could be identified as having autism. This is a slight increase from the 1.5% identified in 2012. However, this rise doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more kids with autism now than before. Instead, it means that cases of autism are being identified better and reported more than before.

“There’s been a narrowing of the gap between white and black children with autism, and between white and Hispanic children, between the previous report and the current one,” Dr. Stuart Shapira, associate director for science and chief medical officer at the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) told TIME. “It’s likely in part due to better identification, more screening and referral to services.”

The findings highlight the importance of early detection and intervention. Less than half of the kids identified in the CDC’s monitoring program were diagnosed before age 4 indicating a need to begin evaluating kids earlier.

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—Shahrzad Warkentin

Featured photo: Pexels

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