Incidence of autism spectrum disorders in children in two Australian states

Katrina Williams, Megan Helmer, Craig M Mellis, Marshall Tuck, Emma J Glasson, Carol I Bower and John Wray
Med J Aust 2005; 182 (3): 108-111.


Aim: To ascertain the incidence of autism spectrum disorders in Australian children.

Setting: New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia (WA), July 1999 to December 2000.

Design: Data were obtained for WA from a prospective register and for NSW by active surveillance.

Main outcome measures: Newly recognised cases of autism spectrum disorders (defined as autistic disorder, Asperger disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified [PDD-NOS]) in children aged 0–14 years; incidence was estimated in 5-year age bands (0–4 years, 5–9 years, 10–14 years).

Results: In WA, 252 children aged 0–14 years were identified with autism spectrum disorder (169 with autistic disorder and 83 with Asperger disorder or PDD-NOS). Comparable figures in NSW were 532, 400 and 132, respectively. Most children were recognised with autistic disorder before school age (median age, 4 years in WA and 3 years in NSW). Incidence of autistic disorder in the 0–4-years age group was 5.5 per 10 000 in WA (95% CI, 4.5–6.7) and 4.3 per 10 000 in NSW (95% CI, 3.8–4.8). Incidence was lower in older age groups. The ratio of all autism spectrum disorders to autistic disorder alone was 1.5:1 in WA and 1.3:1 in NSW, and rose with age (1.8:1 and 2.9:1  in 10–14-year-olds in WA and NSW, respectively).

Conclusions: These are the first reported incidence rates for autism for a large Australian population and are similar to rates reported from the United Kingdom. Ongoing information gathering in WA and repeat active surveillance in NSW will help to monitor any future changes.

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  • Katrina Williams1
  • Megan Helmer2
  • Craig M Mellis3
  • Marshall Tuck4
  • Emma J Glasson5
  • Carol I Bower6
  • John Wray7

  • 1 Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 School of Population Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA.
  • 3 Centre for Child Health Research, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, Perth, WA.
  • 4 State Child Development Centre, Perth, WA.



Funding for the NSW project was provided by the Children’s Hospital Fund of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the Apex Foundation Grant for Intellectual Disability. The authors are grateful to the project’s steering committee, Andrew Hayen for statistical advice, and all professionals who reported cases.

This research was undertaken with assistance from the Australian Department of Community Services and the NSW Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care. However, the information and views contained in this study do not necessarily, or at all, reflect the views or information held by the NSW Government, the Minister for Ageing, Disability and Home Care, or the Department.

Initial funding for the Western Australian Register for Autism Spectrum Disorders was received from the Disability Services Commission of WA, and an Australian Rotary Research Grant. Further funding has been received from the WA Department of Education and Training and the WA Department of Health.

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