Major survey on autism carried out in KoreaA study in Korea suggests about 1 in 38 children have traits of autism, higher than a previous U.S. estimate of 1 in 100.
By casting a wider net and looking closely at mainstream children, the researchers expected to find a higher rate of autism characteristics. But they were surprised at how high the rate was. They don’t think Korea has more children with autism than the United States, but instead that autism often goes undiagnosed in many nations. U.S. estimates are based on education and medical records, not the more time-consuming kind of survey conducted in South Korea.
Two-thirds of the children with autism traits in the study were in the mainstream school population, hadn’t been diagnosed before and weren’t getting any special services. Many of those undiagnosed children likely have mild social impairments, rather than more severe autism.
“It doesn’t mean all of a sudden there are more new children with [autism spectrum disorders],’’ said co-author Dr. Young-Shin Kim of the Yale Child Study Center. “They have been there all along but were not counted in previous prevalence studies.’’
It’s not clear whether the children need special services or not, other experts said.
“I’m sure some of these children probably could benefit from intervention but I don’t think we could make a statement that all would benefit from intervention,’’ said Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s developmental disabilities branch.
The CDC wasn’t involved in the new study, although another federal agency, the National Institute of Mental Health, provided some funding. The group, Autism Speaks, which advocates for more aggressive autism screening, also helped pay for the study. Autism Speaks had no role in the study’s design.
The research, published Monday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, attempted to screen all 55,000 schoolchildren, ages 7 to 12, in a district of Goyang City, near Seoul.
However, only about two-thirds of mainstream children participated.