Aims: To determine the prevalence of autism among children in three regions in the Netherlands (Eindhoven, Haarlem and Utrecht).
Background: It has been suggested that rates of autism might be higher in cities like Eindhoven because they are centres of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Previous family studies show that parents of autistic children are over-represented in STEM occupations.
Method: A survey was sent to all schools (mainstream and special) in the 3 cities. The schools were asked to give an anonymous breakdown of the number of children with a clinical diagnosis of autism. This covered school aged children from 4 to 16 years of age.
Results: Results were published in 2012 (see below). In brief, rates of autism were more than twice as high in Eindhoven compared to the two other Dutch cities.
Importance: This finding suggests that parents who work in STEM may have a higher likelihood of having an autistic child. However, parents were not contacted in this study – only schools were – so the link between autism rates and parental occupations remains to be directly tested. In addition, future research needs to test if this finding replicates in other STEM regions in other cultures.
Relevance: If STEM regions have higher rates of autism they may need greater levels of autism services and support.
Funding: The Autism Research Trust.
- Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in an Information-Technology Region? A School-Based Study of Three Regions in the Netherlands, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 42:734-739 (2012), M. Roelfsema, R. Hoekstra, C. Allison, S. Wheelwright, C. Brayne, F. Matthews. S. Baron-Cohen