The number of schoolchildren who are classified as being autistic has soared by 56 per cent in the last five years.
There are now 61,570 schoolchildren in the state-funded sector that have been recorded as having some kind of autistic spectrum disorder and they make up almost one percent of the entire school population.
Just five years ago, the number of children classified as being autistic was just 39,465 and they accounted for just 0.5 per cent of the school population.
The Government’s definition of autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, and how a person makes sense of the world around them.
The term is used to cover a variety of autistic conditions including Asperger’s syndrome. Data from the Department of Education shows that in 2006 autistic children made up just one in every 200 pupils.
The latest figures put that ratio at one in every 125 children. Autism can cause learning problems for children.
Around 20percent of autistic pupils have been suspended from school more than once and around 50percent say they have been bullied at school.
The USA has seen a similar rise in the number of children with autism. Its Government estimates the cost of schooling a child with the condition is treble the figure for a child that does not need any extra assistance.
Some experts fear the sharp rise in autism may be more down to parents trying to seek an advantage for their child rather than a genuine ailment.
Sociology professor Frank Furedi, who wrote Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, said: “There has been a proliferation for dispensation on the grounds of autism.
“It is unlikely to be a genuine unprecedented increase in autism, rather an institutional use of this condition to allow people to get easier access to resources.
“This activity ends up trivialising what is a very serious condition for some children.”
Statistics from schools in England shows that in the same five year period that has seen autism rise, there has also been an increase on 15percent in the numbers of children registered as having behavioural, emotional or social difficulties to a total of 158,015.
It means that in total there are now 701,000 children, almost one in ten schoolchildren, who are classified as having some kind of special needs.
Nick Seaton, a spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Obviously children with autism need special treatment.
“But the rapid increase does suggest that perhaps the figures should be looked at again.
“Children should not be classified as having special needs too easily. The rise should be examined closely because it has a knock-on effect for teachers, schools and the pupils themselves.”
Caroline Hattersley, Head of Information, Advice and Advocacy at The National Autistic Society, said: “A recent NHS study revealed that the prevalence of autism is 1 in 100 and that the same rate applies for adults as for children. We know that with accurate diagnosis the right support can be put in place so that children with autism can reach their full potential.
“It’s very likely that all teachers and school staff will come into contact with children with autism at some stage during their teaching career, so it’s vital that they receive quality training and strategies to support these children in the classroom.”
A Department of Education spokesman said: “Schools receive funding to meet their duty to support any child with special educational needs, including autism.
In addition, through the Autism Education Trust, we are funding autism training for teachers. “We’re proposing the biggest programme of reforms in 30 years to help children and young people with special educational need or disabilities, including those with autism.
“We recently announced 20 pathfinder areas that will be testing out some of the main proposals from the Special Educational needs and disability Green Paper. This includes trialling a new, single education, health and care plan that can cover children and young people aged birth to 25.”