Belfast Telegraph

Number of school children diagnosed with autism in Northern Ireland on the rise

Nearly 10,000 school children in Northern Ireland were diagnosed with autism in 2018/19.
Nearly 10,000 school children in Northern Ireland were diagnosed with autism in 2018/19.

The number of school children diagnosed with autism in Northern Ireland has increased by more than 2% in the last 10 years, new figures have revealed.

According to the Department of Health the estimated prevalence of autism within the school aged population increased by 2.1% from 1.2% in 2008/09 to 3.3% in 2018/19.

The figures, which were taken from the Northern Ireland School census, shows that in 2018/19 there was 9,768 school children diagnosed with the condition. The figures include those diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

In Northern Ireland there is a significant difference in prevalence rates of autism between the genders, with boys almost four times more likely to be identified with autism than girls.

In 2018/19 the rate of autism in deprived areas of the country was 58% higher than the average for the region as a whole.

The prevalence of autism has increased across all school years between 2009/10 and 2018/19. The greatest increase in the number of children identified with autism occurred in those in Year 9 (aged 13 years).

In 2009/10, 74% of children identified as having autism were classified at Stage 5 of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Assessment.

By 2018/19, the percentage of children identified as having autism classified at Stage 5 of the SEN Assessment had fallen to 58%.

The initial three stages of SEN assessment are dealt with by schools, while at stage 4 and 5 the education authority shares responsibility with the school. Children are reviewed on a yearly basis and may move up or down the assessment scale, depending on performance.

Austim 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 impact them in different ways.

Asperger's Syndrome is a similar condition to autism, 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.

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