Association of Race/Ethnicity and Social Disadvantage With Autism Prevalence in 7 Million School Children in England.


IMPORTANCE: The global prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been reported to be between 1% and 2% of the population, with little research in Black, Asian, and other racial/ethnic minority groups. Accurate estimates of ASD prevalence are vital to planning diagnostic, educational, health, and social care services and may detect possible access barriers to diagnostic pathways and services and inequalities based on social determinants of health. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate whether socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with ASD prevalence and the likelihood of accessing ASD services in racial/ethnic minority and disadvantaged groups in England. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This case-control prevalence cohort study used the Spring School Census 2017 from the Pupil Level Annual Schools Census of the National Pupil Database, which is a total population sample that includes all English children, adolescents, and young adults aged 2 to 21 years in state-funded education. Data were collected on January 17, 2017, and analyzed from August 2, 2018, to January 28, 2020. EXPOSURES: Age and sex were treated as a priori confounders while assessing correlates of ASD status according to (1) race/ethnicity, (2) social disadvantage, (3) first language spoken, (4) Education, Health and Care Plan or ASD Special Educational Needs and Disability support status, and (5) mediation analysis to assess how social disadvantage and language might affect ASD status. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Sex- and age-standardized ASD prevalence by race/ethnicity and 326 English local authority districts in pupils aged 5 to 19 years. RESULTS: The final population sample consisted of 7 047 238 pupils (50.99% male; mean [SD] age, 10.18 [3.47] years) and included 119 821 pupils with ASD, of whom 21 660 also had learning difficulties (18.08%). The standardized prevalence of ASD was 1.76% (95% CI, 1.75%-1.77%), with male pupils showing a prevalence of 2.81% (95% CI, 2.79%-2.83%) and female pupils a prevalence of 0.65% (95% CI, 0.64%-0.66%), for a male-to-female ratio (MFR) of 4.32:1. Standardized prevalence was highest in Black pupils (2.11% [95% CI, 2.06%-2.16%]; MFR, 4.68:1) and lowest in Roma/Irish Travelers (0.85% [95% CI, 0.67%-1.03%]; MFR, 2.84:1). Pupils with ASD were more likely to face social disadvantage (adjusted prevalence ratio, 1.61; 95% CI, 1.59-1.63) and to speak English as an additional language (adjusted prevalence ratio, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.63-0.65). The effect of race/ethnicity on ASD status was mediated mostly through social disadvantage, with Black pupils having the largest effect (standardized mediation coefficient, 0.018; P < .001) and 12.41% of indirect effects through this way. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: These findings suggest that significant differences in ASD prevalence exist across racial/ethnic groups and geographic areas and local authority districts, indicating possible differential phenotypic prevalence or differences in detection or referral for racial/ethnic minority groups.