People in Rotherham are more likely to receive an autism diagnosis, study reveals

Autism diagnoses tend to be clustered within specific NHS service regions and depending on where an individual lives, they may not receive an official diagnosis or access to special education, according to a new study.   

Experts analysed new autism cases across England using NHS health service boundaries for possible hotspots and discovered 45.5% of the NHS Rotherham catchment area had higher-than-average new autism diagnosis clusters.  

baby listening in black headset

NHS Heywood also amounted to 38.8% of its catchment area and 36.9% for NHS Liverpool, researchers found. 

The research team used four years’ worth of data from the Summer School Census, which collected data from individuals aged 1-18 years old in state-funded schools in England – of the 32 million pupils studied, more than 102,000 new autism diagnoses were identified between 2014 and 2017.

After adjusting for age and sex, the researchers found that one in 234 children were given a new autism diagnosis during that four-year period. New diagnoses tended to happen when children are transitioning to a new school, whether that was into nursery (1-3 years), primary school (4-6), or secondary school (10-12 years). 

The report found, particular communities appeared to have different rates, varying by ethnicity and deprivation. 

Lead researcher Dr Andres Roman-Urrestarazu, from the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Autism diagnoses are more common among Black students and other minority ethnic groups. 

‘Why this is the case is not clear and so we need to explore the role played by social factors such as ethnicity and area deprivation as well as the nature of local services.’

Cambridge researchers also revealed, the likelihood of receiving an autism diagnosis more than tripled among girls depending on their ethnicity and social and financial situation compared to white girls without financial disadvantages who speak English as their first language.

However, the report found boys’ likelihood of receiving an autism diagnosis increased more than five-fold depending on their ethnicity and social and financial situation compared to white boys without financial disadvantages who speak English as their first language. 

Dr Robin van Kessel, co-lead researcher from the LSE, said: ‘These new findings show how social determinants interact and can combine to significantly increase the likelihood of an autism diagnosis.

‘As a result, individuals from a minority ethnic background experiencing economic hardship may be significantly more likely to receive an autism diagnosis that their peers.’

Professor Carol Brayne from Cambridge Public Health said: ‘There are clear inequalities in an individual’s likelihood of receiving an autism diagnosis, whether they are socioeconomic factors, ethnicity or even which NHS region or local authority someone lives in.’

The findings, from researchers from the University of Cambridge in collaboration with researchers from the LSE and Newcastle University, have been published in the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

Photo by Alireza Attari


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