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.
In urban areas such as Derry, Limavady and Strabane the rate of autistic children among the school age population (2.2 per cent) is higher than in rural areas (1.9 per cent). Overall, there are 993 autistic school age children locally, compared to 670 children five years ago, despite student intake numbers remaining static.
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.
The report found that the increase in children identified with autism was 31 per cent higher in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland- several of which are in Derry.
It also confirms that boys are almost four times more likely to be identified with autism than girls here.
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.
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.”