New autism cases plateau reported
Wednesday 16th October 2013, 11:41PM BST.
New cases of autism in children have levelled off in the UK after a surge in the 1990s, researchers have said.
The occurrence of autism in eight-year-olds reached a plateau in the early 2000s and remained steady throughout 2010, they found.
Writing in the online journal BMJ Open, the experts said the cause of the surge seen in the 1990s “remains in large part a mystery”.
One explanation is changes to the way autism was diagnosed which captured more cases, but this is unlikely to explain the five-fold increase seen.
In the new study, experts including from the University College London Institute of Child Health, analysed data from the General Practice Research Database, which contains around three million anonymised patient records from GP surgeries in the UK.
The typical prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders (number living with the condition) each year was estimated at 3.8 per 1,000 boys and 0.8 per 1,000 girls.
The annual number of new cases was estimated at 1.2 per 1,000 boys (1,190 in total) and 0.2 per 1,000 girls (217 in total).
Girls were about 75% less likely to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder than boys.
The authors said: “In conclusion, the annual prevalence of clinically con ﬁrmed autism recorded by UK GPs remained steady for the seven year period 2004 to 2010.”
The UK figure differs to r ecent US data which suggests a 78% rise in prevalence of autism among eight-year-olds between 2004 and 2008.
It comes as separate research found that children with autism were seen as less friendly and less trustworthy by their peers, based solely on appearance.
That research, published in the journal Autism, found youngsters were less positive towards children with autism and formed negative impressions after a 30-second encounter.
Dr Steven Stagg, senior lecturer in psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, and psychologists at Royal Holloway, University of London, investigated the initial impressions that typically-developing children form when watching silent videos of children with autism and comparing them with other children.
The children were unaware they were watching videos of youngsters with autism.
Those youngsters with autism scored lower on a number of scores, with typically-developing youngsters saying they were less trustworthy than other children.
They were also less likely to want to play with them and less likely to want to be their friend.
Dr Stagg said: ” Children with autism spend many years learning about facial expressivity, but our research shows that by the age of 11 their slower development in this area is already marking them out amongst their typically-developing peers.
“Children with autism have a difficult time at school, and research published by the National Autistic Society showed that 40% of children with autism reported being bullied.
“According to the Department for Education, 71% of children with an autism diagnosis are currently educated in mainstream schools.
“It is therefore important that schools work with typically-developing children to educate them about autism in order to break through the negative impressions that can be formed through a moment’s contact.”
NHS research published last year showed around one in 100 people have autism.
Carol Povey, director of the centre for autism at the National Autistic Society (NAS), said of the BMJ Open research: “This study shows that, contrary to media hype, autism has been with us for a long time.
“Evidence suggests that the increase in diagnoses of autism is in large part down to greater awareness of the condition, as well as better diagnostic facilities and improved skills and knowledge among those who carry out diagnoses.
“More than 1 in 100 people in the UK have autism and it’s important that we work to ensure they receive the support they need to reach their full potential.”