Exploring the Underdiagnosis and Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Conditions in Beijing.


Previous studies reported that the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) in mainland China is much lower than estimates from developed countries (around 1%). The aim of the study is to apply current screening and standardized diagnostic instruments to a Chinese population to establish a prevalence estimate of ASC in an undiagnosed population in mainland China. We followed the design development used previously in the UK published in 2009 by Baron-Cohen and colleagues. The Mandarin Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST) was validated by screening primary school pupils (n=737 children age 6-10 years old) in Beijing and by conducting diagnostic assessments using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised. The prevalence estimate was generated after adjusting and imputing for missing values using the inverse probability weighting. Response was high (97%). Using the UK cutoff (≥15), CAST performance has 84% sensitivity and 96% specificity (95% confidence interval [CI]: 46, 98, and 96, 97, respectively). Six out of 103 children, not previously diagnosed, were found to the meet diagnostic criteria (8.5 after adjustment, 95% CI: 1.6, 15.4). The preliminary prevalence in an undiagnosed primary school population in mainland China was 119 per 10,000 (95% CI: 53, 265). The utility of CAST is acceptable as a screening instrument for ASC in large epidemiological studies in China. Using a comparable method, the preliminary prevalence estimate of ASC in mainland China is similar to that of those from developed countries.