Autism spectrum disorder: Updated prevalence and comparison of two birth cohorts in a nationally representative Australian sample

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Objectives This study aimed to (1) provide an update on the prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis and new information about teacher-reported ASD in two nationally representative Australian cohorts at ages 10-11 years, (2) examine differences in cohort demographic and clinical profiles and (3) compare the prevalence of teacher-reported ASD and any changes in categorisation over time across the cohorts. Design Secondary analyses were undertaken using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC). Participants Children were recruited at kindergarten age (K cohort; birth year 1999/2000) and birth (B cohort; birth year 2003/2004), with follow-up of every 2years for six waves. Primary outcome measures Parent-reported and teacher-reported ASD diagnosis was ascertained at three time points (waves 4-6). Results At age 10-11 years, the adjusted prevalence of parent-reported ASD diagnosis was 3.9% (95% CI 3.2 to 4.5) and 2.4% (95% CI 1.6 to 2.9) in the B and K cohorts, respectively. Teacher-reported prevalence of ASD was 1.7% (95% CI 1.2 to 2.1) in the B cohort and 0.9% (95% CI 0.56 to 1.14) in the K cohort. Parents reported fewer conduct and peer problems and teachers more pro-social behaviour in B relative to K cohort ASD children. Children reported only by parents in the later-born B cohort had milder behaviour problems than parent-Agreed and teacher-Agreed cases. Although individual switching to ASD from other categories from 8-9 to 10-11 years was low (K cohort n=5, B cohort n=6), teachers reported more children with ASD in the B than K cohort at 10-11 years and fewer children with emotional/ behavioural problems. Conclusions The higher prevalence of parent-reported and teacher-reported ASD diagnosis in the later-born cohort may be partially explained by identifying children with milder behavioural problems as ASD and a change in the use of diagnostic categories in schools.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere015549
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • epidemiology
  • prevalence

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