Over one third of adults with severe learning disabilities living in private households in England have autism according to new NHS report

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Adults with severe learning disability also have a greater likelihood of having autism according to a new report published by the NHS Information Centre. The report combines data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) 2007 with findings from a new study based on a sample of people with learning disabilities living in private households and communal care establishments.

It aims to:

  • Estimate the prevalence of autism in England, furthering previous research that suggests people with learning disabilities are more likely to have autism
  • Address the fact that the APMS did not include people with severe learning disabilities

The researchers sampled selected regional learning disability case registers  in Leicestershire, Lambeth, and Sheffield, stating that the adult prevalence of learning disabilities was within the expected range at the sites.

A sample of 500 was chosen for the study300 from Leicestershire and 100 each from Lambeth and Sheffield

Interviews were carried out with over 200 participants and their carers and then follow up interviews were carried out with a subset, using autism diagnostic observations schedule, the diagnostic interview for social and communication disorders and the autism Diagnostic Interview

The report estimates that the prevalence of autism:

  • Is 1 per cent in the general population  •Is approximately 35 per cent among adults with severe learning disabilities living in private households
  • Is approximately 31 per cent among adults with mild or severe learning disabilities living in communal care establishments
  • Increases with greater severity of learning disability or lower verbal IQ

In terms of the new study that forms part of today’s report; a sample of adults from disability registers in Leicestershire, Lambeth and Sheffield, were invited to take part between August 2010 and April 2011. People were excluded from the new study if they were sufficiently able to have taken part in the APMS 2007 The authors conclude that autism is common among people with a learning disability.

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said:

“While is it is important to note that these estimates are based on a study of only three areas of the country, they offer a new insight into the prevalence of autism among people with learning disabilities. This information will be of particular importance for those who plan and provide services to support those with learning disabilities or with autism.”

You can read the full report at the NHS information centre website: Estimating the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Conditions in Adults: Extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, NHS Information Centre, 31 Jan 2012.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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