Major study in Galway schools to establish how many children have autism

A major national survey is taking place in local primary schools to establish the number of children who have autism.

Some 3,000 children aged six to 11 years have so far been screened as part of the Irish autism prevalence study entitled “Autism Counts”.

Work on the project began here in October and will be completed by February. It is being conducted by Dublin City University’s School of Nursing and is funded by Irish Autism Action.

Galway is one of three regions in the country involved in the project, the others are Waterford and Cork.

Parents of children in the target age groups attending primary and special education schools are being asked to fill in questionnaires as part of the project. Children who score above a certain cut-off point will be invited for further screening.

“As this is a prevalence study high response rates are extremely important,” explains Andrew Boilson, a research associate with Dublin City University’s School of Nursing who is carrying out the fieldwork in Galway. “We invited all national and special education schools to take part and are asking parents to contact us if they have any questions.”

Galway was chosen because the organisers wanted to select regions which were representative in terms of socio-economic status, he says. These areas also needed to have well developed social medical services.

“This is the first autism prevalence study to be undertaken among schoolgoing children. Autism figures vary considerably from country to country. It is believed that one in 100 children in the UK and one in 150 in the US has autism.

“We developed a study booklet - this is for completion by parents of children who are eligible to take part. It contains background questions in terms of the child, such as any history of special education and questions about siblings. Children whom we will indentify with high scores on the screening instrument will be invited to participate in further screening.”

The survey is important because not only will it identify the numbers of children with the disorder but it will also have implications for the resources needed now and in the future to deal with the issue.

It will also heighten awareness among parents with small children about possible signs to watch out for - early diagnosis is helpful in dealing with the condition.

Mr Boilson says the response to the survey locally has been “very good”. “The majority of [Galway] schools agreed to take part. We have had great support from the principals, teachers and parents. There are 93 questions in total in the survey and the completion time is 20 minutes. The majority of children we will identify will have some learning disability.”

For further information on the study log onto www.autismcounts.eu

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