Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Study: Just as many adults as children have autism

From The Times in the UK:

Autism is as common among adults as it is among children, a study has found, dispelling fears of a link between the MMR vaccine and the condition.

A study of rates of autism spectrum disorder among adults suggests that one in every 100 people over the age of 18 has the condition — broadly the same as that cited for children.

The data, collected by the NHS Information Centre, is the first to show how autism affects people over the course of a lifetime, concluding that it is similar across all ages.

People in more than 4,000 households in England were asked a series of questions aimed at assessing their psychiatric health. The results were used to identify adults with an autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger’s syndrome.

The centre said that the study found no evidence to support claims of a link between the MMR jab given to children and the development of autism: if the vaccine was to blame, autism rates among children should be higher because the MMR has been available only since the early 1990s.

The study — the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007 — was funded by the Department of Health. It found that rates of autism were higher among men (1.8 per cent) than among women (0.2 per cent). This reflects studies in children, which have shown higher rates among boys than girls.

The report also found higher rates of autism among single people, among men with no university degree and among men who rent their homes rather than those in other types of housing.

Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: “This landmark report is the first major study into the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among adults to be carried out anywhere in the world.

“The findings do not support suggestions of a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of this condition.”

Mr Straughan said that while the sample size was small and any conclusions needed to be treated with caution, the report suggested that, despite popular perceptions, rates of autism were not increasing.

The MMR jab was first introduced in the UK in 1988. Concerns over the vaccine were sparked by a paper published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield. The research has since been discredited.

Mr Straughan said that the findings backed those from the National Audit Office (NAO) that more was required to support people with autism through adulthood. The NAO found there was very little recognition and service provision by local authorities or the NHS for adults with autism spectrum disorder.

The NHS Information Centre report found that people with autism do not access support services for mental or emotional problems in any greater numbers than the general population.

“This does beg some questions about whether services, as currently configured, are meeting the needs of this group of people,” Mr Straughan said.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS), said that his organisation had long campaigned about awareness of “woefully inadequate” services and support for adults with autism.

“Nearly two-thirds of adults with autism told us they do not have enough support to meet their needs.

“Many thousands feel isolated and ignored and are often completely dependent on their families. This study gives us further evidence to demand that more vital support is put in place.”

Mr Lever said that the report was the first part of a much more detailed research project into the prevalence of autism in the UK.

“While we welcome this initial report, it only underlines the scale of the task that lies ahead and the importance of the forthcoming adult autism strategy in tackling the devastating lack of support and services,” he said.