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The Message From Scotland: Autism Up In Schools 13.6 Times In 16 Years And Accelerating

2015-05-23 23:27

While the UK Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne contemplate how to trim billions from government spending they might like to bear in mind the projected cost to the British economy of autism, calculated a London School of Economics academic at an £34 billion ($54b) in 2013 and modestly downsized to £32b ($51b): this was up about 20 times from the greater than £1b figure calculated in 2001.

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But if as we shall see the basis of Prof Knapp’s calculations maybe erroneous we are hurtling to a situation where the costs will be even worse. 

The Message From Scotland: Autism Up In Schools 13.6 Times In 16 Years And Accelerating. 29875.jpeg

The problem is dramatically highlighted by the numbers of Autism Spectrum Disorder cases recorded in Scottish schools from 1998 to 2013 (it is worth concentrating on Scotland because the figures go back further and are more comprehensive than for England): in Scotland the figures rose from 820 cases in 1998 to 9,946 in 2013: allowing for the change in overall numbers this was 1 in 925 in 1998 and 1 in 68 in 2013. However, this in itself disguises the fact that the 2013 figure combines a lower rate in older students with a much higher rate in younger students: the present rate for children entering the system in the last five years will much higher than 1 in 68, and is perhaps conservatively in the region of 1 in 30 (data supplied by the Scottish Executive).

Year

Total number of pupils

Number of pupils with an ASD

1998

758,414

820

1999

755,081

959

2000

751,243

1,245

2001

745,063

1,515

2002

738,597

2,204

2003

732,122

2,663

2004

723,554

3,090

2005

713,240

3,484

2006

702,737

2,443

2007

692,215

3,919

2008

681,573

4,900

2009

676,740

5,254

2010

673,133

6,506

2011

670,511

7,801

2012

671,218

8,650

2013

673,530

9,946

 The Bruescher study in JAMA  , co-authored by Prof Knapp last year, projected 604,824 ASD cases in the total UK population - of which 491,243 were said to be adults -  while the Department of Works and Pensions only knew of approximately 130,000 cases  (which includes children): they conjecture that a further 300,000 cases of learning difficulty may include ASD cases but presumably this is the ever elusive hidden hoard. The National Statistics survey which projected a 1% figure for adults in England - having used inappropriate means - had in reality failed to detect a single authentic case, and was further involved in fraudulent re-labelling . However, if the Bruescher study greatly over-estimated the present number of adult cases in the UK it seems to have grossly under-calculated its per capita costs.  The study gives the lifetime cost of a person with autism and intellectual disability (ID) as £1.5m ($2.2). Not only is this absurdly low (even in 2001 Prof Knapp projected an average lifetime cost  -with or without ID - at £2.4m ($3.8)) a calculation based on its costs in Table 2 gives a figure for autism and ID of £4,864,911 (about $7.8m), or more than three times greater.

We have to consider what it means in a civilised nation when you have to look after an autism rate of 1 in 30. For one thing Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, needs to stop being re-assured by the UK Department  of Health in Westminster that they know what they are doing and everything is completely control. They don’t and it isn’t.

John Stone is UK Editor for Age of Autism.

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