Increased autism in school age children - report

Editorial image
Editorial image

The estimated prevalance of autism increased by almost 1% in school children in the Northern Trust area which covers Ballymena and Antrim.

The rise is revealed in a new document published by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, entitled ‘The Prevalence of Autism (including Aspergers Syndrome) in School age Children in Northern Ireland 2015’.

Key Facts and Figures from the publication include:-

The figures provided by the Northern Ireland School Census have shown that the estimated prevalence of autism has increased by 0.9 percentage points across all Health and Social Care Trusts between 2009/10 and 2014/15, from 1.3% of the compulsory school age population to 2.2%.

There is a significant difference in the estimated prevalence rates of ASD between the genders, with males almost five times more likely to be identified with ASD than females. However the analysis has indicated that the female ASD population (of compulsory school age) in recent years has increased at a slightly higher rate than the male population.

The urban Northern Ireland population has a statistically significant higher prevalence rate than the rural population. This result was not fully replicated at HSC Trust level, with only the Southern Trust consistently showing year on year significance between location and the number of children identified with ASD.

Those children in the least and most deprived areas appear to have the highest prevalence rate of ASD, with those children in MDM deciles closer to the middle of the scale having lower rates of ASD prevalence. There are exceptions to this (Decile 4) which indicates this area may require further study. As many of the most and least deprived MDM deciles are located in urban areas there is likely some cross cutting relationship with the results seen for ASD prevalence and the urban rural spilt (see appendix 2).

Looking at prevalence across school years over time we can see that the estimated prevalence of ASD has increased across all school years, between 2009/10 and 2014/15, with the greatest increases in the numbers of children identified with ASD occurring in the youngest (5 – 8 year olds) and oldest (13 – 16 year olds) groups of children.

The data shows that the majority of children with ASD have been assessed to be at Stage 5 of the Special Educational Needs assessment process in each year. The 6 year trend analysis indicates that there is a small but constant decrease in the relative percentage of identified children at Stage 5 during the school census snapshot.