Northern Ireland news

Report: Almost five per cent of NI school population has autism

Boys are also three times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than girls

ALMOST five per cent of the school population in Northern Ireland has autism, new figures reveal.

Boys are also three times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than girls, according to the report by the Department of Health.

It said there was a "large difference in the prevalence rates of autism between the genders".

The findings are revealed in a report, The Prevalence of Autism (including Asperger's Syndrome) in School Age Children in Northern Ireland.

It states that figures show 14,019 school aged children had been diagnosed with autism, which represents an estimated autism prevalence rate of 4.7 per cent within the school aged population.

This marks a 0.2 percentage point increase compared with the previous year.

Figures also show 6.9 per cent of boys were identified compared with 2.4 per cent of girls.

In 2021/22, the highest prevalence rate recorded was 6.1 per cent for those in Year 8 (aged 11-12) and Year 9 (aged 12-13) and the lowest was 1.3 per cent for those in primary one (children aged 4-5).

The report suggests there is "a steady rise in the prevalence rate of autism from primary one up to Year 9 in 2021/22".

"This trend has been observed in previous years and may link in with children being diagnosed with autism during their early school years," it states.

Of the children diagnosed with autism in 2021/23, 17 per cent were not identified as having any special educational needs. This is three percentage points higher than the proportion in the previous year.

More than half had a statement of special educational needs (SEN stage 3), whilst a quarter of the children with autism were in either SEN stage one or two.

The report also states that the urban population has a statistically significant higher prevalence rate of autism than the rural population.

It found 5.5 per cent of children in urban areas have been diagnosed with autism, compared to 3.5 per cent in rural areas in 2021/22.

Findings also reveal that 14 per cent of children identified with autism were living in the most deprived areas, while seven per cent were located in the least deprived areas.

The rate of autism in school aged children in the most deprived areas was 36 per cent higher than the Northern Ireland average.

The report states that the "need to develop and improve health and social care services for people of all ages who are affected by autism (including Asperger Syndrome) has been apparent for some time".

"In order to provide effective services, knowing the incidence and prevalence of this condition is clearly important," it states.

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