autismscreenAutism is a group of developmental disabilities that affect how a person communicates, cognises, behaves, and interacts. Signs of autism commonly become evident within the first few years of a childs life. The main indicators are persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction; and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. These deficits result in functional limitations.

As per DSM-V, for an autism diagnosis to be made the symptoms must cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning. To gain a more thorough understanding of autism symptoms and signs, you may care to download our organisations Red Flags brochure. If you have concerns about your child, it is recommended you consult your General Practitioner and seek referral to a Developmental Paediatrician.

While researchers and academics have yet to advise on the cause of autism, it is commonly agreed that early intervention is the key to creating positive change. Early intervention refers to changes, treatments, responses or Models of Care implemented during a childs formative years (ie 0-3 years). Early interventions have broadly been categorised as behavioural, developmental, combined, therapy-based, or family-based. A 2012 report by the NSW Parliamentary Research Service concluded high intensity interventions which address both the needs of the diagnosed child and the family using a behavioural, educational and/or developmental approach are the most effective (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Briefing Paper No 5, 2013).

According to the Autism Victoria Research Reference Group (September 2011), the prevalence rate for autism in Australia is 1 in 110. Amanda Richdale on behalf of the Autism Victoria Research Reference Group states that 1% is the figure that should be used for current service planning.

This revised prevalence rate replaces the 2007 prevalence study done by the Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders which concluded that 1 in 160 Australian children aged 6-12 years has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Many autism advocacy groups believe the actual figure to be much higher based on the increasing number of diagnoses and the growing demand for early intervention services. We see evidence of this in the number of NDIS participants (ie 31%) being funded for an ASD. Indicatively, persons with an autism diagnoses are the largest disability group in the scheme (June 2015 NDIS Quarterly Report).

Other western countries such as America and Canada also show increasing prevalence rates. One of the problems within Australia is that we don’t have hard and factual national data. However, as Australian autism advocate, Dr Andrew Whitehouse, says “there’s a strong likelihood that what is happening in the US is happening here.”

The following data shows evidence of the increase in autism both in Australia and other western countries.

  • By June 2012 there were 53,428 Australian children aged under 16 years diagnosed with either Autistic or Aspergers Disorder (ie signed off by an allied health professional and registered with Centrelink for Carer Allowance). NB: this does not include children diagnosed with Persuasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Stated (PDD-NOS). These data indicate ASD prevalence in 2012 had increased to at least 1.63% (or 1 in 61.5 of school-age children).
  • The estimated autism prevalence rate in the USA is now 1 in 68. This 2014 revision represents a 30% increase in diagnoses from the previous two years (1 in 88 in 2012); and a 23 percent increase from the Centre for Disease Controls previous estimate of 1 in 110 children reported in 2009.
  • According to the National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC), the Canadian Autism prevalence rate is estimated at 1 in 94 for children 6 to 9 years of age. In 2003 the rate was 1 in 450.
  • In the UK around 700,000 people are estimated to present with autism. This is more than 1 in 100. Like Australia, there is no register or exact count so information is based on epidemiological surveys (ie studies of distinct and identifiable populations).
  • In the United Kingdom, autism is considered the most costly medical condition.

Further data about autism diagnosis, prevalence and current research can be found at Autism Awareness, the Australian peak body for autism advocacy.