Belfast Telegraph

Spike in Northern Ireland children diagnosed with autism

Autism diagnoses have increased by over 100% in the last five years.
Autism diagnoses have increased by over 100% in the last five years.

By Gareth Cross

The number of children diagnosed with autism in Northern Ireland has more than doubled in the last five years, figures show.

In some cases health trusts have seen a three-fold increase in incidents, with charities saying they are “inundated” with requests for help.

More than 2,000 children are still waiting for a diagnosis.

Autism charities said the rise could be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

Last year 2,345 under-18s in Northern Ireland were diagnosed with autism compared to 1,047 in 2013.

The largest increase was seen in the Belfast Trust area, with a rise from 171 cases in 2013/14 to 567 in 2017/18. The figures were obtained by the BBC.

The Northern Trust is the only health care body that differentiates between Asperger’s and austism.

In 2011 the Assembly passed the Autism Act which aimed to implement a governmental strategy to cater for people with autism and their needs.

However, Autism NI said that the legislation had “failed to deliver on its promises of help for autistic people, their families and carers”.

Their 2016 “Broken Promises” report called on the Stormont Assembly to take action on the issue.

Kerry Boyd
Kerry Boyd

Head of Autism NI Kerry Boyd told how the group has been “inundated” with requests for support.

“The introduction of the Autism Act (NI) 2011 and the accompanying increase in awareness both within the general public and health and education professions may have contributed to a rise in the number of assessments carried out and resulting diagnoses,” she said.

“Consequently Autism NI, which provides vital services, is inundated with requests for support and we are finding it increasingly difficult to fulfil this demand.

“As a result of this exponential increase, many families are not receiving an adequate level of support particularly in relation to early intervention.”

Dr Alan Stout, the chair of the Northern Ireland GP Committee of the British Medical Association, said “increased awareness” and changes to the criteria under the 2011 legislation had led to a surge in cases.

“A number of years ago we were also placing other types of conditions, such as Asperger’s, but now they are all categorised as being on the spectrum of autism and the threshold has also been reduced for what constitutes being on the spectrum,” he said.

“We do tend to notice that the diagnoses are getting younger and younger - it has big, big implications if the diagnosis can be confirmed.

“It helps the understanding for the school and the parents.”

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