Autism affects roughly 1.1% of the UK population.
This number comes from a range of studies in children and adults. In adults, the numbers were estimated based on household surveys, but the researchers found similar figures to what had previously been found in children.
However many more older adults remain undiagnosed, so the figure is likely to be much greater
Diagnosis rates of autism vary from country to country. The difference in numbers comes down to how autism is counted, when it is counted, who is included and how they check the diagnosis. In the UK, a national count hasn’t taken place in a few years, but is due soon. It will be interesting to see the new figures and how they reflect those of other countries.
Gender and Autism.
Over the years, there have been many studies looking at the numbers of boys and girls, and men and women with autism. Researchers have calculated that on average, there are four times as many males as females with autism. However, the numbers depend on who you are counting. In autistic people and learning disabilities, there are only twice as many males as there are females. On the other hand, in Asperger syndrome, there are ten times as many males as there are females.
Autism can present differently in females, without an accompanying learning disability.
Genetics studies have shown that the reason that there are more males than females may be biological – somehow girls are more protected than boys. On the other hand, girls may be missing out on diagnosis because they are better able to hide their difficulties. Many women and girls with autism have learnt coping mechanisms that make them seem like they are able to cope. However, they are also at higher risk of developing mental health problems, and many women and girls are exhausted at the end of the day from the effort it takes to “act neurotypical”.
Around 50% of people with autism also suffer from anxiety or depression.
Many studies have been carried out to explore mental health problems in autism. Different studies find different numbers, depending on their methods and who they are looking at. Generally, most of the research points to around half of all autistic people suffering from anxiety or depression.
In the neurotypical population, no more than about 15% of the population suffer from anxiety or depression. Autistic people are more likely to develop mental health problems partly because they do not receive appropriate support.
Furthermore, some of the core features of autism, like not understanding some of the mechanics of conversation and social interaction, can cause anxiety.
Over 90% of autistic people also have sensory issues.
The importance of sensory issues in autism has only really been fully recognised in the past few years. Why are sensory issues important? Sensory issues can have an enormous impact on the quality of life of a autistic person. It can affect the other core features and can also lead to a person feeling extremely anxious about the environment they find themselves in.