Psychological Medicine

Research Article

The prevalence of early childhood autism: comparison of administrative and epidemiological studies

Lorna Winga11, Sybil R. Yeatesa1 p1, Lorna M. Brierleya1 and Judith Goulda1

a1 MRC Social Psychiatry Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, London, the Health Department, London Borough of Southwark, Castle House, London, the Medical Department, Inner London Education Authority, County Hall, London


The results of surveys and inquiries to identify autistic children, carried out in England and Wales, the U.S.A. and Denmark, are compared. Three studies, in each of which either a total population of children or a wide range of handicapped children was screened, using case-note inspection and interviews, all estimated the prevalence of the autistic syndrome to be between four and five children per 10,000 aged under 15 years. Inquiries that counted diagnosed cases only or that relied upon local authority records produced much lower prevalence rates for the autistic syndrome. The reasons for this are examined, and the implications for prevalence studies of handicapping conditions are discussed.


p1 Present address: Newcomen Centre, Guy's Hospital, St Thomas Street, London, S.E.I.


1 Address for reprints: MRC Social Psychiatry Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF.