Autism may be far more prevalent in China than previously thought. According to a new study, 1 in every 100 children in China has autism, a statistic on par with the United Kingdom but still somewhat short of the United States.
The study was led by Sophia Xiang Sun, a psychologist at the Star Kay Bridge Research Centre for Children with Autism in Xiamen, China. According to Sun, Chinese parents often overlook certain autism traits, such as speech delays, due to the cultural belief that bright children learn to speak late.
According to a Spectrum News report on the recent study, previous estimates of autism prevalence in China only accounted for children with severe autism. Today, millions of Chinese children with autism are lacking much-needed services, behavioral therapy, and educational support. Understanding the prevalence of autism in China may finally change that.
The study conducted by Sun and her team involved screening children between the ages of six and ten for autism in three Chinese cities: Jilin, Jiamusi, and Shenzhen. The researchers decided which children to evaluate for autism using the results of the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST), a questionnaire filled out by parents. In Jilin, 7,258 children were screened, and 592 were invited for clinical evaluation. According to Spectrum, 524 of the children were from mainstream schools, while 68 were from special-education schools and intervention centers. 77 of the children were diagnosed with autism, indicating a prevalence of 1 percent.
In Jiamusi, the researchers identified autism in 10 of 16,358 children. In Shenzhen, 35 of 21,420 children were diagnosed. The results of the evaluations were published this past February in Molecular Autism.
While the study focused on a larger number of children, Sun says the results may not present a full picture of autism prevalence in China.
“China has a large population, so it’s still hard to say that this is representative of the whole country,” she was quoted as saying. At the same time, the fact that all of the autism diagnoses at mainstream schools were new ones suggests the condition has been under-recognized in China.
According to Spectrum, Sun and her team are planning to map the prevalence of autism in seven other Chinese cities to get a fuller picture of autism in the country.