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Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability, involving a spectrum of different needs.  It affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.[1] It is estimated that more than half a million people in England have autism. This is equivalent to more than 1% of the population and similar to the number of people that have dementia.[2]  Presently, four times as many boys as girls are diagnosed with autism.[3]  Data from Herefordshire GP practices indicate that in March 2017 there were 718 patients across Herefordshire recorded on their list as having autism, which represents a prevalence of 0.4 per cent.

Autism is neither a learning disability nor a mental health problem, although mental health problems can be more common among people with autism and it is estimated that one in three adults with a learning disability also have autism.[2] While people with autism may also receive support through learning disability services their needs may be different to the requirements of those with learning disabilities.

The government’s autism strategy 'Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives' (2010, updated in 2014) charged public services in England with ensuring people with autism are able to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives and are treated fairly and equally.[2]  This includes providing a range of support that meets the needs of the individual and making reasonable adjustments to ensure people with autism and not disadvantaged with regard to access to services, jobs, healthcare, etc.

Children with autism are more likely to experience bullying, be excluded from school and have lower levels of educational attainment compared to their peers.  Fewer than one in four school leavers with autism stay in further or higher education.  School children with autism can find changes to routine very unsettling. Pupils need to be informed and prepared in advance of any changes. Some get special support in mainstream school, and some attend specialist schools. Only certain levels of autism are given Statements of Special Needs.[4]

In Herefordshire, the rate of children known to have autism attending state funded school primary, secondary and special schools is 8.1 per thousand, significantly lower than in both the rate in England of 12.5 per thousand and the West Midlands region (12.8 per thousand).  The reasons for this are unclear but it may be due to differences in recording practices, under-recognition of cases, or differences in the prevalence of autism.    

[1] What is autism?, The National Autistic Society.

[2] Think Autism: Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives, the strategy for adults with autism in England: an update, Department of Health, 2014.

[3] Stats and facts, Ambitious about Autism.

[4] Learning disability profile, Public Health England.