Prevalence of autism in South Korea estimated at 1 in 38 children

May 9, 2011

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in South Korea affect an estimated 2.64% of the population of school-age children, equivalent to 1 in 38 children, according to the first comprehensive study of autism prevalence using a total population sample. The study—conducted by Young-Shin Kim, M.D., of the Yale Child Study Center and her colleagues in the U.S., Korea and Canada—identifies children not yet diagnosed and has the potential to increase autism spectrum disorder prevalence estimates worldwide.

ASDs are complex neurobiological disorders that inhibit a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and are often accompanied by behavioral challenges.

Published online today in the , the study reports on about 55,000 ages 7 to 12 years in a South Korean community, including those enrolled in special education services and a disability registry, as well as children enrolled in general education schools. All children were systematically assessed using multiple clinical evaluations. This method unmasked cases that could have gone unnoticed. More than two-thirds of the ASD cases in the study were found in the mainstream school population, unrecognized and untreated.

The research team, including cultural anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker of George Washington University, took steps to mitigate potential cultural biases that could impact diagnostic practices and prevalence estimates. They also considered that more Korean children with ASD may be found in mainstream educational settings based on the design of the highly structured Korean educational system, which often includes 12-hour-long school days. Therefore Korean children with ASD may function at various levels in the Korean general population while not receiving special education services.

“While this study does not suggest that Koreans have more than any other population in the world, it does suggest that autism may be more common than previously thought,” said Grinker.

According to Kim, the study’s corresponding author, experts disagree about the causes and significance of reported increases in ASD, partly because of variations in diagnostic criteria and incomplete epidemiologic studies that have limited the establishment of actual population-based rates. “We were able to find more children with ASD and describe the full spectrum of ASD clinical characteristics,” said Kim, assistant professor in the Yale Child Study Center. “Recent research reveals that part of the increase in reported ASD prevalence appears attributable to factors such as increased public awareness and broadening of diagnostic criteria. This study suggests that better case finding may actually account for an even larger increase.”

Kim said that while the current project did not investigate potential risk factors in this particular population, the study does set the stage for ongoing work to examine genetic and environmental factors contributing to the risk of ASD.

She also noted that the study is further evidence that autism transcends cultural, geographic, and ethnic boundaries and is a major global public health concern, not limited to the Western world.

“We know that the best outcomes for children with ASD come from the earliest possible diagnosis and intervention,” said Kim, whose co-investigator, Yun-Joo Koh of the Korea Institute for Children’s Social Development, reported that in response to the study findings, Goyang City, host of the Korea study, has courageously begun to provide comprehensive assessment and intervention services for all first graders entering their school system. “We hope that others will follow Goyang City’s example so that any population-based identification of children with ASD is accompanied by intervention services for those children and their families.”

Explore further: Toward a long-sought saliva test for autism

Related Stories

Toward a long-sought saliva test for autism

January 12, 2009

Researchers in Italy are reporting discovery of abnormal proteins in the saliva of autism patients that could eventually provide a clue for the molecular basis of this severe developmental disorder and could be used as a ...

Study estimates one in 91 individuals have autism

November 4, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental disorders marked by impaired social interactions, restricted interests, repetitive behaviors, and communication impairment, which persist throughout ...

Children with autistic traits remain undiagnosed

March 22, 2010

There has been a major increase in the incidence of autism over the last twenty years. While people have differing opinions as to why this is (environment, vaccines, mother's age, better diagnostic practice, more awareness ...

Brain scans detect autism's signature

November 15, 2010

An autism study by Yale School of Medicine researchers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has identified a pattern of brain activity that may characterize the genetic vulnerability to developing autism spectrum ...

Eating disorders linked with autism in school children

February 10, 2011

Although traditionally considered two quite separate conditions, many similarities in characteristics have previously been found in those with a clinical diagnosis of an eating disorder and a clinical diagnosis of autism.

Recommended for you

Zika virus may persist in the vagina days after infection

August 25, 2016

The Zika virus reproduces in the vaginal tissue of pregnant mice several days after infection, according to a study by Yale researchers. From the genitals, the virus spreads and infects the fetal brain, impairing fetal development. ...

In sub-Saharan Africa, cancer can be an infectious disease

August 26, 2016

In 1963, Irish surgeon Denis Parson Burkitt airmailed samples of an unusual jaw tumor found in Ugandan children to his colleague, Anthony Epstein, at Middlesex Hospital in London. Epstein, an expert in chicken viruses and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.