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Autism spectrum disorder: updated prevalence and comparison of two birth cohorts in a nationally representative Australian sample
  1. Tamara May1,2,
  2. Emma Sciberras2,3,
  3. Amanda Brignell1,2,
  4. Katrina Williams1,2,4
  1. 1 Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2 Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  3. 3 School of Psychology, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4 Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr. Tamara May; tamara.may{at}


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 2  years 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.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • prevalence
  • epidemiology

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  • Contributors The authors alone are responsible for the content and writing of the paper. TM, ES, AB and KW all made a substantial contribution to the study design and conception. TM completed the data analysis and drafted the initial version of the paper. TM, ES, AB and KW made a substantial contribution to the interpretation of findings. ES, AB and KW revised and critically reviewed the paper. TM, ES, AB and KW provided approval of the final version to be published. All authors are accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Australian Institute of Family Studies Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement This dataset is available from Australian Institute of Family Studies.