Why Singapore’s autism rate is higher than the world average

One in 150 children in Singapore has autism, a higher rate than the World Health Organisation’s global figure of one in 160 children.

This comes as more preschoolers here get diagnosed with developmental issues. There were 4,400 such children in 2014, a 76 per cent jump from the 2,500 children in 2010.

Related: Autism 101

These figures were revealed in the Government’s third Enabling Masterplan, which was unveiled on Dec 20. It covers the next five years and builds on two earlier plans to create a more inclusive society for people with disabilities.

The data on developmental problems came from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the National University Hospital, which diagnose such disorders in children six years and below.

The children’s conditions include autism, speech and language delays, behavioural problems and global development delay.

The panel behind the roadmap identified the rising number of people with autism as a key trend affecting the disability sector, and said it was important for future services to address the wide spectrum of needs.

The consensus among experts is that Singapore’s high autism rate and the rise in the number of people with autism are likely due to more awareness and testing, and to the wider parameters of the autism spectrum, rather than a greater prevalence of autism.

Dr Eyleen Goh, an assistant professor in the neuroscience academic clinical programme at the Duke-NUS Medical School, said the WHO rate is probably lower because of underdiagnosis in certain countries.

“Diagnosis for autism has always been a difficult and challenging issue,” she said. “A large part of the diagnosis is based on questionnaires, which can be subjective. This is why overdiagnosis and underdiagnosis can happen.”

The rate here is lower than that reported in countries such as the United States, Japan, Denmark and Australia – where one in 60 to 70 children has autism.

MP Denise Phua, president of the Autism Resource Centre (ARC), said that overdiagnosis of autism here is unlikely.

She said: “There may even be an under-reporting in the total population with autism, as we are receiving more queries for diagnosis and support for adults suspected to have autism.”|

Related: 60% jump in Singapore kids diagnosed with developmental problems 

The ARC said there have been no accurate…

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