This group, mostly living in private households, was previously ‘invisible’ in estimates of autism.
Dr Terry Brugha, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Leicester, led research on behalf of the University. The report presents findings from a new study based on a sample of people with learning disabilities living in private households and communal care establishments.
Dr Brugha, also a consultant psychiatrist working in the NHS with the Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, said: “We were surprised by how many adults with moderate to profound learning disability had autism because previous estimates pointed to lower rates in this group.”
The study showed that about 60% of men with profound learning disabilities and 43% of women with profound learning disabilities have autism. This section of the autism community has never been shown in figures previously.
“It may also seem surprising how many live at home with parents or carers who provide 24 hour care and shoulder a considerable burden: 42% of men and 29% of women with severe learning disabilities living with family members and in other private households have autism.” Dr Brugha said.
This new information will be particularly important for those who plan and provide services to support those with learning disabilities.
Dr Brugha added, “Such improvements can only be achieved if the number of people with recognised and unrecognised autism is quantified. The strategy gave special emphasis to the need to train staff who have responsibility for identifying people with autism and their care. It will be vital to repeat such studies in future years in order to make sure that the national strategy is working effectively.”
Sally-Ann Cooper, Professor of Learning Disabilities at the University of Glasgow, who also contributed to the latest study commented: “Until now routine statistics have not been gathered on the numbers of people with learning disabilities who also have autism leaving this as a hidden problem. Our study clearly shows that the more severe to profound an adult’s learning.”