Autism In Children On The Rise In Northern Ireland

The number of Northern Ireland children receiving confirmed autism spectrum disorder diagnoses has increased by more than 100 percent over the last five years. BBC News reports that many health experts believe the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses stems from the increased awareness of the spectrum disorder.

Kerry Boyd, the head of Autism NI, revealed the increase of autism diagnoses has resulted in her organization being flooded with requests for services and support from families.

“Consequently Autism NI, which provides vital services, is inundated with requests for support and we are finding it increasingly difficult to fulfill this demand. As a result of this exponential increase, many families are not receiving an adequate level of support particularly in relation to early intervention,” she explained as she opened up with her organization’s struggle to meet the growing demand.

In total, there were 2,345 children in Northern Ireland under 18-years-old that were diagnosed as autistic just last year. This compares to the 1,047 children that were diagnosed as being on the spectrum just five years ago.

BBC News clarifies that these numbers do not differentiate with what type of autism each child has, just that they were all confirmed to be somewhere on the spectrum.

The figures reportedly line up with statistics from other places in the world by confirming that males are more commonly diagnosed as being autistic. Over the past five years, boys were determined to be three times more likely to be autistic than girls in Northern Ireland.

While the Northern Ireland Assembly did pass the Autism Act NI to offer protection to members of the community with autism, Autism NI and the National Autistic Society NI published a report that the act “failed to deliver” on the promises offered to individuals with autism.

BBC News also clarifies the numbers are not completely accurate, as there are roughly 2,500 children under the age of 18 in Northern Ireland that are awaiting autism assessments and the number only continues to grow, as more children are brought into the world.

Typically, children are not diagnosed with autism until they are between the ages of 3- and 5-years-old. According to WebMD, it is not uncommon for children to not receive an autism diagnosis until they are over the age of 5, even if medical professionals notice early developmental delays pointing toward a diagnosis.

Annie Davison, a mother-of-two from Sydenham in east Belfast, opened up about how “stressful” the process of waiting for her children to be assessed for autism was. Davison also acknowledged how much the schools and communities were struggling with the increased demand to properly support autistic children.

“There are a lot of people who are not getting help in schools,” Davison explained.