One in 58 British children has autism

The number of children in Britain with autism is far higher than previously thought, according to new evidence by the country's leading experts in the field.

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Researchers at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre (ARC) have estimated that one in 58 children suffer from some form of the disorder, compared to previous estimates of about one in 100.

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The figures mean up to 210,000 children under 16 across the UK could have some form of autism, the unpublished research by the ARC found.

Autism is an umbrella term for a range of developmental disorders that have a lifelong effect on the ability to interact socially and communicate. There are related problems, known as autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s syndrome, which also require special teaching needs.

Two of the seven experts who took part in the study have now privately voiced concerns that the controversial MMR vaccine, which babies receive at 12 to 15 months, may be a factor in the emergence of autism among some children. However, the other five, including team leader Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the centre and the country’s foremost authority on the condition, rejected their view.

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Professor Baron-Cohen said genetics, better recognition of the condition, environmental factors such as chemicals and children’s exposure to hormones in the womb, especially testosterone, were more likely to be the cause, saying, ‘As for MMR, at this point one can conclude that evidence does not support the idea that the MMR causes autism.’

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