According to a study conducted by the University of Exeter, the number of autism diagnoses in England has increased more than 20 times over the last two decades. In the year 1998, the number of recorded autism diagnoses was 3,072, whereas, in the year 2018, this figure skyrocketed to 65,665. Adult diagnoses and a particular increase in the number of female patients are the highlights of the study.
The diagnosis of as many as 9 million patients across England was compared by the researchers to conclude the findings of the study. Published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, this study is the first-ever analysis of the time trend vis-à-vis autism diagnosis in the British population, over a 20-year period.
Even though the pioneering nature of the study was widely applauded, the findings have also raised an alarm. Experts are now worried that the autism diagnoses in England have been ‘stretched to breaking point’.
The researchers believe that the meteoric rise is primarily attributable to better identification. However, an actual increase in the number of cases cannot be ruled out either. Ginny Russel, the lead author from the University of Exeter said, “As there is not really a plausible reason why autism should increase more in adults and females, our study suggests the change is probably due to increased identification, and not more people with neurodevelopmental disorders per se.”
Other factors such as an increase in adult assessment centers, and the decision to discontinue the separate diagnosis of Asperger’s are also thought to have contributed to the higher numbers.
In their conclusion, the authors of the study said, “Increases could be due to growth in prevalence or, more likely, increased reporting and application of diagnosis. Rising diagnosis among adults, females, and higher functioning individuals suggest augmented recognition underpins these changes.”