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Autism “significantly” more common than previously reported, study reveals

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A “significantly higher” number of children may have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than previously reported, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the University of Cambridge, is among the first to examine data from the School Census from the National Pupil Database.

According to the report, some 119,821 children had a diagnosis of autism on their record – representing 1.76 per cent of children in England (one in 57), which is significantly higher than previous estimates.

Previous studies put the proportion of children with ASD at 1.57 per cent, or one in 64.

“We can now see that autism is much more common than previously thought,” said lead researcher Dr Andres Roman-Urrestarazu.

The study also reveals that Black and Chinese pupils were 26 per cent and 38 per cent more likely to be autistic, respectively, and autistic children were much more likely to face significant social disadvantage.

Dr Roman-Urrestarazu added: “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.”

It is believed that the increase in numbers is likely to be “because autism has become better recognised by both parents and schools in recent years”.

Welcoming the study, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, said specialists must now explore why there are variations in ethnic groups 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.