Experts say that the increase in rates of autism, which is a lifelong developmental disability that handicaps people’s communication and interaction with the world, is due to the improved ability by both parents and schools to recognise it in recent years.
Autism has been found to be more common in Black and Chinese children compared to white kids, according to a new study released on Monday showing the condition to be more widespread than previously believed.
“We can now see that autism is much more common than previously thought. We also found significant variations in autism diagnosis in different ethnic minorities, though the reason why this should be the case isn’t clear and warrants further research,” said lead researcher Dr Andres Roman-Urrestarazu from the Autism Research Centre (ARC) and Cambridge Public Health at the University of Cambridge.
In one of the largest research projects of its kind, the University of Cambridge discovered that around one in 57 (1.76 percent) of children in England are on the autistic spectrum.
The study spans more than seven million young people and challenges previous estimates by the same research group that only one in 64 (1.57 percent) were autistic.
According to the study published in the journal JAMA Paediatrics – and using information from the national pupil database observing kids aged two and 21 in English government-funded schools – out of more than 7,047,301 pupils studied, 119,821 are diagnosed as autistic on their educational record.
The Cambridge Uni scientists, working alongside Newcastle University and Maastricht University researchers, also found that Black and Chinese pupils are 26 percent and 38 percent more likely to have autism respectively. Children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds were also found to be more likely to have the condition.
Those recorded with autism in schools are 60 percent more likely to also be socially disadvantaged, and 36 percent less likely to speak English, according to the research.
Newcastle University’s Professor Fiona Matthews said the study “highlights the need for more attention to the unrecognised and differing needs of autistic children from disadvantaged and diverse backgrounds.”
An Ethnic Divide?
Nearly a fifth – 21,660 (18.1 percent) children – were also found to have learning difficulties, with boys being more than four times as likely to have the disorder than girls, with a prevalence of 2.8 percent compared to 0.65 percent respectively.
Pupils with Black ethnicity had the highest autism rates (2.1 percent) and Roma/Irish Travellers (0.85 percent) have the lowest, with “diagnostic bias” being among the possible reasons causing the apparent differences among ethnic groups. According to the research team, this study was the first to be published that analysed these groups.
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the ARC, said that the study provides “a snapshot of how many autistic children there are” and can “drill down into local and ethnic variation, and reveal links with vulnerability.”
“It is important that we safeguard the rights of children to access diagnostic services and education, tailored to their needs,” he added.
The percentage of the global population with autism is around 1 to 2 percent with a reported male to female ratio of 3 or 2 to 1. According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), 1 in 100 people are somewhere on the autistic spectrum with around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.