Hidden rise in autism fuels fears over MMR

http://www.sundayherald.com/24551

 
By Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health Editor

 
More Scottish children have autism than was previously thought, according
to a new report. One in 121 children in Scottish schools now has autism,
significantly more than estimates of one in 166 recently made by the
Medical Research Council.

Yet the Scottish figure is still lower than that for England and Wales,
where the rate is one in 86, and since there are no reasons for a disparity
across the UK, it is believed that Scotland is behind in diagnosis . The
new figure comes from a survey of Scottish schools by the National Autistic
Society.

Robert McKay, national co- ordinator for Scotland at the NAS said: 'Autism
is a significant problem for schools and numbers appear to be rising.
However, there is an issue over diagnosis and assessment as it would seem
we are not picking up the numbers of children we should .

'Nonetheless, with numbers at such a high level, we need the Executive and
local authorities to recognise this and take appropriate action to ensure
that all children with autism spectrum disorder are given full support to
reach their potential.'

The study also found that 89% of schools surveyed are dissatisfied with the
extent of their teachers' training in autism. One-third of schools with
children with autism have no access to speech and language therapy.

But parents of autistic children last night said they were not surprised by
the findings and called for earlier diagnosis and better research into the
causes of the condition.

Scott and Jill Guild from Edinburgh have an autistic son, Jack, who they
believe developed the condition after receiving the MMR vaccine at 15 months.

'I am not surprised that the statistics are starting to confirm what we
thought for a long time -- that there is an increase in the number of
autistic children. In my opinion the diagnostic process is not what it
should be, it's not made early enough,' Scott said.

David Thrower, also father of an autistic child, added: 'The NAS's finding
that there are such high rates of autism amongst mainstream primary-age
schoolchildren, quite apart from those autistic children in special
schools, should be a wake-up call to health professionals in Scotland. Such
a rate is vastly higher than figures previously released. These increases
cannot possibly be fully explained by better diagnosis and greater
awareness alone.

'Something is clearly going wrong. It is vital that the Medical Research
Council commissions urgent clinical research into the children affected,
particularly in view of the recent findings by Andrew Wakefield, John
O'Leary, Vijendra Singh and others suggesting a link with the MMR vaccine.
We have to find out what is damaging these children, notably those who
acquired autism later in their childhood.'

The figures have prompted renewed calls for the Scottish Executive to
revise its immunisation policy. Nicola Sturgeon, shadow health minister,
said: 'The figures are alarming. This underlines the need for more research
into the causes of autism and undermines public confidence in the MMR
vaccine. The current government policy of refusing to offer single vaccines
threatens to further reduce vaccination uptake which will present
increasing danger to children.'

Mary Scanlon, Conservative health spokeswoman, who is also calling for
single vaccines to be made available as an alternative to the MMR vaccine,
added: 'The main point is that autism figures are increasing and continuing
to increase at an alarming rate. It is time that we made serious efforts to
find out the causes of autism.'

Last month an expert group set up by the Scottish Executive ruled that
there should be no change to the vaccination policy to allow parents
concerned about the MMR jag to request single vaccines for their children.
A Scottish Executive health spokeswoman said: 'This is an interesting, if
small, questionnaire study of 169 schools in two authorities in Scotland. A
number of the points raised in the report are already being taken forward
by the Executive.

'Ministers have already announced that they are providing almost 700,000
through a grant programme to improve services for children with autism and
their families. Included within this is funding to the NAS to improve
training for professionals working in the field of autism spectrum
disorders.'


National Autistic Society helpline: 0870 600 8585