'Most adults with autism go undiagnosed' -- new findings

May 4, 2011

Not a single person identified with autism or asperger's syndrome during a community survey in England actually knew they had the condition, research led by the University of Leicester reveals.

According to Dr Traolach Brugha, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Leicester, the research has already revealed that was commoner in males, those without higher educational qualifications, and those living in social (government financed) housing. Prevalence was not related to the age of those with the condition.

The findings emerge from the first ever general population survey of autism in adulthood. They are based on a two phase epidemiological survey in England (7,461 screening interviews; 618 diagnostic) carried out in 2007. The findings are now published fully in the world's leading peer refereed mental health scientific journal the . This means that the survey carried out from Leicester is now internationally endorsed officially.

Dr Brugha, who is also a consultant psychiatrist working in the NHS with the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, said none of the cases with autism found in the community survey throughout England knew that they were autistic or had received an official of autism or asperger syndrome.

Dr Brugha said the new scientific article confirms the already published report from the survey (2009) that 9.8 per thousand adults in England meet official diagnostic criteria for . There was no evidence of an 'autism epidemic' of marked increase in people with the condition.

He said: "Overall our findings suggest that prevalence is neither rising nor falling significantly over time. This favours the interpretation that methods of ascertainment (case finding) have changed in more recent surveys of children compared to the earliest surveys in which the rates reported were considerably lower".

In a comment on the possible causes of autism the researchers suggest that "the [non genetic or environmental] causes of autism appear to be temporally constant, and that recent apparent rises in rates of diagnosis must therefore reflect better case finding, rather than some new environmental toxin. However, we would urge caution and the need for independent replication of this first set of adult community survey findings".

Professor Brugha also drew attention to the newly reported finding that none of their cases of autism were already known to have the condition: "It is very concerning that none of the cases we confirmed using rigorous diagnostic assessment methods in the community knew that they had the condition or had an official diagnosis. As in all community surveys it is of course likely that most of the cases we found were relatively mild and few were severe. We know that severe autism particularly when accompanied by learning disability is much more likely to be recognised. We are beginning to provide training to psychiatrists in the diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions in adulthood through the Royal College of Psychiatrists Education and Training Centre, London.

The initial findings of the survey, which appeared first in 2009 (www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/asdpsychiatricmorbidity07), attracted considerable media attention. The survey was carried out jointly with the National Centre for Social Research and a team of methodological experts from collaborating Universities (University of Cambridge, UCL, and King's College, London). Further work extending the survey to adults in communal establishments and adults with Learning Disability has since been commissioned by the NHS Information for the Department of Health and is being carried out in collaboration with researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Glasgow. The findings are expected to become available later in 2011.

Explore further: Study estimates rate of autism spectrum disorder in adults in England

Related Stories

Study estimates rate of autism spectrum disorder in adults in England

May 2, 2011
In England, the prevalence of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was estimated to be 9.8 per 1,000 population, according to a report in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Recommended for you

Depression changes structure of the brain, study suggests

July 21, 2017
Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

6_6
1 / 5 (1) May 06, 2011
before I was diagnosed, people just used to think I was being a rude annoying jerk, they don't beat me up as much these days

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.