Number of children with autism soars by more than 50% in just five years

Photo: Getty Images

The number of schoolchildren who are classified as being autistic has soared by 56 per cent in the last five years.

Telegraph | Mar 22, 2012

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.”

3 responses to “Number of children with autism soars by more than 50% in just five years

  1. I don’t dispute that there is a growing need to offer educational services to children with learning disabilities. But, I do recognize that the increase is also due to the ever changing definition of Autism. Here is some interesting information that I read some time ago: Is Autism rising?
    Of course, years ago, Autism was not diagnosed as readily as it is today. Although, I’m not a doctor, I’d also say that our Public Education system contributes to learning difficulties in that it does not provide the cerebral stimulation that children require. All children learn differently. We can no longer rely on a generic approach to education. Either way, regardless of the cause, it requires attention, proper cognitive therapy/stimulation, and support.

    Thank you for the thought povoking post.

  2. Annie Walker-Leonard,

    Oh you’re not a doctor? Gee I guess that means that only experts like doctors are able to have an informed opinion on the subject. I get that on climate change.

    “Are you a climatologist?”

    “Well no, but…”

    “Well then you don’t have a right to form an opinion. The science is settled. Listen to the experts.” etc, blah, blah, blah…

    Okay so would you say that vaccinations have nothing to do with autism? It seems so by your omission of it being a factor in the increase, rather more than implying that the incredible increase is due to solely to either diagnostics or to semantics (ie ‘changing definition’) or both. Then I find it odd that you throw in Public Education as being a factor when the majority of children who are autistic present the condition well before attending public school (other than pre-school perhaps which often requires vaccination coincidentally).

    Now here is some really interesting information of my own that I read some time ago:

    Psychiatrist in charge of autism research has family connection to vaccine implicated in rise of autism rates

  3. Thanks for the sarcastic affirmation regarding my “expertise” disclaimer. I agree that we DON’T have to be experts to form an opinion. However, I follow this blog, and the relevant topic is something that I have researched in the past.
    More recent research tells us (much of the same) that the rise in Autism is a combination of the changing definitions of “Autism” and diagnosis prerequisites, genetics, & ” many researchers now say that at least part of the rise in autism is real and caused by something in the environment. ( ).
    The jury is still out on vaccines, but I agree with Insel regarding the effects of vaccines on some children. I think that the key, is to have an open mind. It’s happening, and we need to continue the research in order to find out why/what is happening.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s