By Anne Dachel
On May 15, 2018, Northern Ireland’s Derry Journal ran the story, Autism diagnosis rise among local schoolkids
The numbers were shocking and so was the attitude of the reporter. While the school population hasn’t increased, the autism numbers continue to soar.
The number of school age children diagnosed with Autism and Asperger Syndrome in the Western Trust area has increased by almost 50 per cent over the last five years.
It has now emerged that around two in every 100 local children are on the Autism spectrum.
The figures are contained new Department of Health report entitled, ‘The Prevalence of Autism (including Asperger Syndrome) in School Age Children’, and do not include the number of children currently being assessed. …
Incredibly, more and more disabled children are not a cause for alarm. The jump in the rate was attributed to “increased awareness,” according to the Dept. of Health which provided the numbers.
The introduction of the Autism Act (NI) 2011 and increased awareness may well have led to a rise the number of assessments and positive diagnoses, its authors state.
The only action called for was more services.
They also add that the “need to develop and improve health and social care services for people of all ages who are affected by autism (including Asperger Syndrome) has been apparent for some time.”
NEW REPORT: THINGS ARE WORSE IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Northern Ireland is experiencing an "autism wave" with one in 34 school-age children being diagnosed with the condition - and an expert says that services are now "at breaking point".
Research by the Department of Health shows that 8,442 school-age children were diagnosed with autism in 2017/18, with the prevalence of the condition increasing by 69% over the past five years.
In total, 2.9% of schoolchildren here have autism, with children living in urban areas 1.5 times more likely to have the developmental disability.
The Belfast Trust has the highest diagnosis of autism and the autism rate in Northern Ireland's most deprived group was 31% higher than the countrywide average.
Autism NI CEO Kerry Boyd said that a report commissioned by the Department of Education had warned of an "autism wave" in 2002.
She said: "The pressure on autism services is now at breaking point.
"In some trust areas, parents are still waiting up to two years on an assessment and support services are few and far between.
"Therefore, it is often left to the voluntary sector to fill this void, but due to the level of demand on Autism NI's services, we are already stretched to full capacity.…
A Department of Health spokeswoman said that they were continuing to see an increase in demand for autism services….
A spokesperson for the Education Authority (EA) said it continued to invest in its Autism Advisory and Intervention Service.
"Whilst it has seen a rise in the number of children being diagnosed with autism in some areas, EA continues to provide advice and support to schools and parents alongside a training programme.
"Pupil interventions and early intervention remain a key aspect of the work of the regional team."
No number seems too horrific for experts anywhere. Better diagnosing is still the official mantra used to dissuade people from thinking that something is really wrong with kids today.
The really scary thing here is that the rate of one in 34 in Northern Ireland is the exact same rate that researchers recently found in New Jersey.
What if this is now the real rate? What if Belfast and New Jersey are doing the best job of better diagnosing?
Shouldn't health officials and lawmakers want to address this before things reach the point of no return?
Add to the autism rate, the oft-repeated finding that one in 5 children today is mentally ill, and you have a lot of reasons to worry if we have any future at all.
In a May 17th story in Northern Ireland Newry, readers learned that "currently 24% of enrolled learners" at a local high school are considered special education students.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.