May 19, 2011 Foundation News

Large Population of Undiagnosed Autism in General Population According to New Brain Research Foundation Study

CHICAGO, May 19, 2011 — /PRNewswire/ — A new study utilizing a population-based approach that for the first time looked for autism among all children found prevalence of the disorder to be almost three times higher than previously thought. The groundbreaking study conducted over five years in Korea by a multinational group of scientists tested all children, including those in mainstream schools who had no history of the disorder. Previous studies focused more narrowly, meaning a significant percentage of the population was never evaluated.


“This extraordinary project utilized a population-based approach that screened all the children in a large community to identify those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD),” stated Dr. Bennett Leventhal, Brain Research Foundation board member and study participant.  “The results of the study indicated a prevalence estimate for ASD to be 2.64% of the population; a number nearly three times previous estimates.”  The groundbreaking study was conducted over five years in Korea by a multinational group of scientists, led by Brain Research Foundation investigators Young Shin Kim, MD, PhD, MPH and Bennett L. Leventhal, MD.  


The new study is unique in that it attempted to screen all 55,000 children ages 7-12 in a community, including those previously identified to have special needs and all children with no history of problems attending regular education classes.  It is noteworthy that the previously identified children constituted 0.7% of the community and a remarkable 1.9% of the children were in regular classes without any prior diagnosis or treatment.  “Prior to this new study, estimates put the prevalence of autism at one in 110 children, or less than one percent of the population,” explained Dr. Terre Constantine, Executive Director of Brain Research Foundation.


This study is important because there has been concern about reports over the past four decades indicating that ASD prevalence is increasing.  Some have been concerned about new causes of the disorder in the environment, however, the researchers suggest that a variety of factors contribute to the growing prevalence, not the least of which is the more thorough case finding noted in this study.  


“Dr. Kim, who led the work, and our team expect the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the United States and in other countries will be in the range of two to three percent,” added Dr. Leventhal. “It is likely there are many children in our schools who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder that have not been identified and are not being provided treatment that can improve their functioning.”  


The researchers emphasized that autism is a global public health concern affecting all world areas. “These dramatic results underscore how much we still have to learn about autism and the great need to increase research, especially early-stage research,” added Dr. Constantine. “Dr. Kim and her entire team are to be commended, but the work to understand this disorder is just beginning.”


The study was primarily funded by a grant from Brain Research Foundation with additional funding from the Institute for Ethnographic Research and Autism Speaks.


About the Brain Research Foundation  The Brain Research Foundation supports cutting-edge neuroscience research that will lead to novel treatments and prevention of all neurological diseases in children and adults. We deliver this commitment through seed grants, which provide initial funding for innovative research projects, as well as educational programs for researchers and the general public.

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