Could Autism Be More Common Than We Thought?

math A study that was done outside of Seoul, South Korea, reveals that one in thirty-eight children has autism. This number is much larger than was previously expected. To understand more about what this study actually indicates, you first must know more about the circumstances surrounding the study. It does not mean that there has been an increase in the number of cases of autism.

The study was funded by Autism Speaks, and was led by Young Shin Kim, MD, PhD, MPH, of Yale University. The study focused on a community school located outside of Seoul, South Korea, and had 55,000 students. The researchers looked for children in that school who were between the ages of 7 and 12, and who had an autism spectrum disorder.

The research revealed that one out of every thirty-eight children has an autism spectrum disorder. Researchers noted that the results mean that around two-thirds of children who have an ASD are “in the community”. These children are undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, because no one has recognized that the child is on the autism spectrum.

Kim, the leader of the study, feels that the lives of these children could be improved with early identification and intervention. He also noted that this study does not indicate that more children have suddenly become autistic. Instead, it means that these kids were there, all along, unrecognized.

In South Korea, where the study took place, school days last for twelve hours. Children attend school five or six days every week. The schools have a very structured environment that places strong emphasis on academics, and not on socialization. For these reasons, a child who has autism, and is able to function well with his or her academics, can go completely undetected.

What does this mean for American schools? It also means that there could be children who have autism that also have not been identified, and are in the mainstream population, not receiving treatment.

In the past, there was the perception that children who have autism are also cognitively impaired. This concept presumes that children who have an ASD, and are high functioning with their academics, have Asperger’s Syndrome, instead of autism. The study indicates that “drawing a line” between Asperger’s and autism might not be appropriate.

How could children who have an ASD go undetected in an American school? Part of the problem could be that their teachers are not incredibly familiar with the signs of the disorder. Often, though, what happens in American schools is that the students who are doing well academically are assumed to not require any help, because it is believed that they have no special needs.

As a result, the same child who aces every math test could be completely lost in social situations, like at recess time. Teachers are not usually directed to consider the lack of social skills to be a vital thing. Good social skills, however, are an important tool that leads to success in the “real world”.

Image by Sam Crockett on Flickr