Northern Ireland news

Poor schoolchildren significantly more likely to be diagnosed with autism

Autism is a developmental disability that influences a person's ability to communicate

POOR schoolchildren are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with autism than richer pupils, a new report has found.

The proportion of the school-aged population with autism in Northern Ireland has increased from 1.2 to 3.3 per cent in a decade.

In the most deprived areas of the north, the rate is 58 per cent higher than the average.

The figures are contained in a report published by the Department of Health.

It looked at autism, including Asperger's Syndrome, among pupils and used statistics extracted from the School Census.

Autism is a developmental disability that influences a person's ability to communicate and relate to other people, as well as affecting how they make sense of the world. It is a spectrum condition, meaning that while all people with autism will have similar problems, overall their condition will affect them in different ways.

Asperger's Syndrome is similar, however these children do not generally experience the same language and learning disabilities associated with autism. They are more likely to have difficulties in the areas of social imagination, communication and interaction.

In 2008/09, the proportion of pupils with autism was 1.1 per cent. This rose to 3.3 per cent in 2018/19 - about 11,500 children.

The report suggested the introduction of the Autism Act in 2011 and accompanying increase in awareness via campaigns and consciousness raising events, "may well contribute to a rise in the number of assessments carried out and positive diagnoses processing through the system".

It further found that children from poorer areas were more likely to be affected.

During 2018/19, 14 per cent of pupils with autism were from the most deprived area in the north, while 8 per cent were located in the least deprived.

The prevalence of autism in the most deprived area increased by 3.5 percentage points over 10 years compared to a 2.0 point increase in the least deprived area in the same period.

The rate in the 10 per cent most deprived areas in Northern Ireland stood at 4,550 cases per 100,000 population in 2018/19. This was almost three-fifths (58 per cent) higher than the regional average, 2,879 cases per

100,000, and more than two-fifths higher than the rate in the 10 per cent least deprived areas - 3,200 cases per 100,000.

Males are almost four times more likely to be identified with autism than females, which is in line with international findings.

The report also found that urban areas have a statistically significant higher prevalence rate than the rural population.

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