South Korean Autism Study Shows Rates May Be Much Higher Than Thought

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens

autism

2.6 percent of the children had autism -- more than two times the average rate reported in developed nations. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

A six-year study looking at autism rates in a South Korean city could lead to new global estimates of the prevalence of the disorder, The New York Times reports.

Researchers from the Yale Child Study Center, George Washington University and other institutes attempted to screen every 7- to 12-year-ol
d child in the Ilsan community of Goyang, population 488,590, according to the newspaper.

They found 2.6 percent of the children had autism -- more than two times the average rate reported in developed nations, The Times reports.

"From the get-go we had the feeling that we would find a higher prevalence than other studies because we were looking at an understudied population: children in regular schools," lead researcher, Dr. Young-Shin Kim, a child psychiatrist and epidemiologist at the Yale Child Study Center, tells the newspaper.

Experts, however, say the research, set to be published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and largely funded by Autism Speaks, does not add up to a rise in autism cases, but points to a more comprehensive study, according to The Times.

"This is a very impressive study," Lisa Croen, director of the autism research program at Kaiser-Permanente Northern California, who was not involved with the study, tells The Times. "They did a careful job and in a part of the world where autism has not been well documented in the past."

Why South Korea? The Times reports the prevalence of autism had not previously been measured there and the country's national health care system, along with its "homogeneous population" were factors.

Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, chief of developmental disabilities at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities of the C.D.C., tells the newspaper the C.D.C.'s records-based approach likely misses some cases of autism when it comes to the poor, minorities and "potentially among girls."

"We believe this will be a way to get as complete an estimate of A.S.D. (autism spectrum disorder) prevalence as possible," she tells The Times in an e-mail.

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