Global prevalence of autism: A systematic review update, (2022), Zeidan J., Fombonne E., Scorah J., Ibrahim A., Durkin M., Saxena S., Yusuf A., Shih A., Elsabbagh M.

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Prevalence estimates of autism are essential for informing public policy, raising awareness, and developing research priorities. Using a systematic review, we synthesized estimates of the prevalence of autism worldwide. We examined factors accounting for variability in estimates and critically reviewed evidence relevant for hypotheses about biological or social determinants (viz., biological sex, sociodemographic status, ethnicity/race, and nativity) potentially modifying prevalence estimates of autism. We performed the search in November 2021 within Medline for studies estimating autism prevalence, published since our last systematic review in 2012. Data were extracted by two independent researchers. Since 2012, 99 estimates from 71 studies were published indicating a global autism prevalence that ranges within and across regions, with a median prevalence of 100/10,000 (range: 1.09/10,000 to 436.0/10,000). The median male-to-female ratio was 4.2. The median percentage of autism cases with co-occurring intellectual disability was 33.0%. Estimates varied, likely reflecting complex and dynamic interactions between patterns of community awareness, service capacity, help seeking, and sociodemographic factors. A limitation of this review is that synthesizing methodological features precludes a quality appraisal of studies. Our findings reveal an increase in measured autism prevalence globally, reflecting the combined effects of multiple factors including the increase in community awareness and public health response globally, progress in case identification and definition, and an increase in community capacity. Hypotheses linking factors that increase the likelihood of developing autism with variations in prevalence will require research with large, representative samples and comparable autism diagnostic criteria and case-finding methods in diverse world regions over time.

Lay Summary

We reviewed studies of the prevalence of autism worldwide, considering the impact of geographic, ethnic, and socioeconomic factors on prevalence estimates. Approximately 1/100 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder around the world. Prevalence estimates increased over time and varied greatly within and across sociodemographic groups. These findings reflect changes in the definition of autism and differences in the methodology and contexts of prevalence studies.

Citation: Zeidan J, Fombonne E, Scorah J, Ibrahim A, Durkin MS, Saxena S, Yusuf A, Shih A, Elsabbagh M. Global prevalence of autism: A systematic review update. Autism Res. 2022 May;15(5):778-790. doi: 10.1002/aur.2696. Epub 2022 Mar 3. PMID: 35238171; PMCID: PMC9310578.


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