New study will calculate number of British adults with autism|
LEICESTER, UK: The University of Leicester is leading on a national study to calculate the number of British adults with autism, it has been announced.
Professor Terry Brugha, professor of psychiatry in the university's Department of Health Sciences, is spearheading the study in conjunction with a team of research experts including the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Research Autism and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge. It will report in 2009.
The British Care Services Minister, Ivan Lewis, announced an additional investment of £500,000 for government research into the numbers of adults with autism and their specific transitions needs. This prevalence study will inform the first ever government strategy on adults with autism and Asperger's syndrome.
The number of children with autism is as high as 1 in 100 (according to studies by Professor Howard Meltzer of the University of Leicester and Professpr Gillian Baird's 2006 study). The new prevalence study now under way will give the first ever accurate picture of how many adults have the condition. Part of the new research will focus on the period of transition to adult life and will inform service planning for adults with autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs). This will be led by Professor Baird and it will examine the lessons and challenges in the transition process and focus on areas such as mental health, social care, housing and further education needs.
Professor Brugha is Director of Research, Department of Health Sciences, University of Leicester and Honorary Consultant Adult General Psychiatrist, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. He operates an NHS assessment clinic for adults who may have autism spectrum disorder and liaises with adult mental health services throughout Leicester and Leicestershire, also providing training to professional staff and teams.
His area of research is psychiatric epidemiology in adulthood. He is also currently developing and testing methods for the prevention of depression.
Professor Brugha said: "This will be the world's first ever study looking at the number of adults in the community who have an autism spectrum disorder.
"There is growing recognition that this is a group of people with unrecognised 'invisible' needs but who also often have strengths to offer to society that go largely untapped.
"The cost of autism in Great Britain in children and adults has been estimated to run into many billions of pounds some of which may be due to unnecessary economic inactivity and also dependency on services that do not know how to recognise and support their needs appropriately.
"The survey involves interviews and examinations of a random sample of people who may have the condition and where possible the collection of information from family and carers. Statistical methods are then used to summarise the data and estimate how many people have the condition and what are their circumstances. The results will appear in published reports for the government, public health and local health and social care services and articles in scientific journals. The Government has stated that the information will be used to develop a national plan to support these people."
Ivan Lewis said: "Adults with autism and Asperger's syndrome are too often abandoned by services with their families left to struggle alone. Equally, people are frequently misappropriately referred to either mental health or learning disability services
"This study will inform the development of a national strategy designed to ensure that adults with autism and Asperger's syndrome are supported to have full lives.
"We still don't know enough about autism, but we do know that, left unsupported, it can have a devastating impact on those who have the condition and their families. One of the key gaps in our knowledge is simple - we don't know how many people have the condition in any given area. That is why I am ordering a study to address this. "
The prevalence study will make use of new data collected in 2007 by NatCen and Professor Brugha's team to record the number of adults with Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning autism. There will also be an additional part to the study on the number of people with autism who have more complex needs and learning disabilities. The aim of the combined research will provide good epidemiological information in terms of prevalence and the characteristics and problems of this group.
This work, including research into transitions, is being commissioned and funded jointly with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. An autism expert will be appointed within the Department of Health to take both studies forward.
Mark Lever, chief executive of The National Autistic Society, said: "We warmly welcome today's announcement from the Department of Health. Through our I Exist report, adults with autism told us they feel isolated and ignored, we are therefore delighted that the government has listened and is taking action . The Government has committed to establishing an autism specialist post and to undertake research into the number of adults with autism. We hope this will mark a turning point in the way that the needs of people with autism are recognised and met."
(Source: Medical News Today, May 9, 2009)