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Schoolchildren diagnosed with autism in NI increases 82% over last five years


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Cases of autism in school-age children have increased by 82% in the last five years, a report has found

Cases of autism in school-age children have increased by 82% in the last five years, a report has found

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Cases of autism in school-age children have increased by 82% in the last five years, a report has found

Cases of autism in school-age children have increased by 82% in the last five years, a report has found.

One in 24 children of school age here has been diagnosed, according to figures from the Department of Health.

Its report said 12,544 school-aged children are autistic - a prevalence rate of 4.2%. The figures were described as "alarming" by the charity Autism NI.

The statistics also show children living in the most deprived areas here are 38% more likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

The report, which examines the prevalence of autism - including Asperger's Syndrome - in Northern Ireland children of school age found a significant difference in the estimated rates of autism between the genders.

It discovered that males are three times more likely to be identified with autism than females. During 2019/20, the report noted that 5.1% of P7 pupils had received an autism diagnosis - the highest prevalence rate - which compares to 2% of children in P1.

Kerry Boyd, chief executive officer of Autism NI, said these latest figures "although alarming, are not unexpected".

"A report was commissioned by the NI Department of Education which warned of this 'autism wave' of diagnosis back in 2002 and this was the motivation for Autism NI's autism awareness lobby at Stormont which led to the establishment of the Autism Act (NI) in 2011," she explained.

"Since then we have seen an increase in awareness and understanding of autism, which is being demonstrated within these latest statistics.

The charity chief continued: "For this reason, Autism NI has been lobbying relentlessly over the past 10 years on the urgent need for adequate autism services and a consistent, uniformed approach across all health trusts and education."

She insisted autism services here are now at "breaking point", with the voluntary sector facing increased demand.

"Every child with autism should be diagnosed as early as possible and receive a tailored early intervention package to ensure the best outcomes for that child," explained Ms Boyd.

"It is therefore left to the voluntary sector to fill this 'void' but due to the level of demand on Autism NI's services and lack of funding available, we are stretched to full capacity with very little statutory funding.

"Therefore, we are calling for an urgent review on autism services to address this crisis and for a ring-fenced budget to be established to ensure autism supports and interventions are available for each and every autism family throughout Northern Ireland."

Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, welcomed the report's publication, insisting it will help in highlighting the resources children may need. "It is essential that every child and young person experiences their rights, be that in their education or health, so they can flourish and have an equal opportunity to reach their full and maximum potential," she said.

"The publication identifies and highlights particular groups and cohorts of children and young people, so it is important that services also address these variations and patterns."

The Commissioner added: "Children and young people with autism and/or Asperger's are unique. Each one is special and each will have different and individual needs.

"It is very important we have a clear understanding of this so it informs the design and delivery of services, and ensures a quality provision that meets those individual needs."

Belfast Telegraph