By Anne Dachel
There’s been another stunning announcement about autism in the UK. This time it’s from Northern Ireland. An annual report released on May 20th revealed that, according to the Department of Health, one in every 17 students in the 6 counties of Northern Ireland is autistic. (This would also mean about one in every 10 boys.)
Even more alarming are the numbers exclusively from Belfast. There one in every 14 students has a diagnosis.
Here is the official report: Prevalence of Autism (including Asperger Syndrome) in School Age Children in Northern Ireland.
This is what the BBC reported: Autism: Proportion of NI pupils with diagnosis quadruples
Boys were three times more likely to have a diagnosis of autism than girls
The proportion of schoolchildren with an autism diagnosis in Northern Ireland has quadrupled in just over a decade, according to figures just published by the Department of Health.
Shirelle Stewart from the National Autistic Society NI said many schools were "already struggling to provide the support that autistic children need".
More than 14,000 children between four and 16 have an autism diagnosis.
That is an estimated 4.7% of the school-aged population.
That is up from about 1.2% of pupils in 2009....
The health trust area with the highest prevalence of autism in school-aged children was the Belfast Trust where about one in every 14 children had a diagnosis.
The DoH statistics also show that about one in every 17 pupils in the first years of post-primary school (years eight and nine) is autistic.
The director of the National Autistic Society NI, Shirelle Stewart, called for more teacher training and classroom aides, but she did not sound an alarm about the unending increases in autism. They seem to be something we have no control over.
We were told the government has started a six month review to see if there are appropriate supports in schools.
“Research would indicate that the diagnosis rate is rising due to greater awareness and understanding of autism, but diagnostic services are not keeping up with the need,” she told this newspaper.
In May last year, the same officials put the autism rate in Northern Ireland at “almost one in 20” children. Here’s what the BBC said then:
Almost one in every 20 school-age children in Northern Ireland has been diagnosed with autism.
More than 13,000 children between the ages of four to 15 have a diagnosis of autism - an estimated 4.5% of the school aged population.
That is according to new figures published by the Department of Health (DoH).
The proportion of children with autism in schools in Northern Ireland has more than trebled in a decade.
ONCE AGAIN we were told there was no real increase.
Increased awareness and the effect of the Autism Act NI, which was passed in 2011, have been highlighted as potential reasons for the rise in diagnoses.
The BBC left us with the cold reality that this isn’t going to stop.
The number of children of school-age with autism has been increasing by about 10% a year for the past decade.
WE WILL DO NOTHING ABOUT AUTISM
Media outlets continue to give us updates on the autism rate while dismissing any concern about the cause.
In 2020, there was the same scenario. More children have autism; it’s nothing to worry about.
May 22, 2020, Belfast Telegraph: Schoolchildren diagnosed with autism in NI increases 82% over last five years
Cases of autism in school-age children have increased by 82% in the last five years, a report has found.
One in 24 children of school age here has been diagnosed, according to figures from the Department of Health.
Its report said 12,544 school-aged children are autistic - a prevalence rate of 4.2%. The figures were described as "alarming" by the charity Autism NI.
The Department of Health in Northern Ireland reports on horrific increases in a seriously disabling condition affecting children while doing nothing about it.
Should the people of Northern Ireland expect a 10 percent increase in the autism rate until it’s one in 10, one in five, or one in two? When will it be so bad that officials will do something to address why it’s happening?
SO MUCH WORSE
As chilling as this news is, it’s not accurate.
Also in May 2021, officials admitted that there were thousands of children waiting, many for years, for an autism diagnosis.
Almost 4,500 children in Northern Ireland have been recorded as waiting for an autism assessment - and there could be more.
The latest figure taken from December was revealed during a Stormont Health Committee meeting on Monday, where the Health Minister Robin Swann was urged to create a longer-term autism strategy in Northern Ireland.
Health Minister Swann promised to reduce wait time.
The future looks very bleak for Northern Ireland. Not only is autism a nightmare, but the overall condition of children is a disaster. A report from the UK Parliament in 2019 revealed that 23 percent of students in there had special needs.
The Commissioner reported that altogether there are 79,000 pupils in Northern Ireland with some form of special needs, 23 per cent of the school population.
Since that was three years ago, the percentage is probably higher now.
Seeing this happen, year after year after year, can’t be understood or accepted by any rational person, yet we hear the news, and immediately the story dies. How can the government care so little about the welfare of children and the future of the country? Why don’t members of the media ask relevant questions?
When will it stop?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.