Helping the most vulnerable out of the poverty trap and reducing inequality: Policies, strategies, and services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, including intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities: Benchmarking Autism Services Efficacy: BASE Project (Volume 3) Secondary Data analysis

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1) Executive Summary
Legislation (Autism Act NI, 2011), a cross-departmental strategy (Autism Strategy 2013-2020) and a first action plan (2013-2016) have been developed in Northern Ireland in order to support individuals and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) without a prior thorough baseline assessment of need. At the same time, there are large existing data sets about the population in NI that had never been subjected to a secondary data analysis with regards to data on ASD. This report covers the first comprehensive secondary data analysis and thereby aims to inform future policy and practice.
Following a search of all existing, large-scale, regional or national data sets that were relevant to the lives of individuals and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Northern Ireland, extensive secondary data analyses were carried out. The focus of these secondary data analyses was to distill any ASD related data from larger generic data sets. The findings are reported for each data set and follow a lifespan perspective, i.e., data related to children is reported first before data related to adults.
Key findings:
Autism Prevalence:
Of children born in 2000 in the UK,
• 0.9% (1:109) were reported to have ASD, when they were 5-year old in 2005;
• 1.8% (1:55) were reported to have ASD, when they were 7-years old in 2007;
• 3.5% (1:29) were reported to have ASD, when they were 11-year old in 2011.
In mainstream schools in Northern Ireland
• 1.2% of the children were reported to have ASD in 2006/07;
• 1.8% of the children were reported to have ASD in 2012/13.

Economic Deprivation:
• Families of children with autism (CWA) were 9%-18% worse off per week than families of children not on the autism spectrum (COA).
• Between 2006-2013 deprivation of CWA compared to COA nearly doubled as measured by eligibility for free school meals (from near 20 % to 37%)
• In 2006, CWA and COA experienced similar levels of deprivation (approx. 20%), by 2013, a considerable deprivation gap had developed, with CWA experienced 6% more deprivation than COA.
• Nearly 1/3 of primary school CWA lived in the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland.
• Nearly ½ of children with Asperger’s Syndrome who attended special school lived in the most deprived areas.

• Mothers of CWA were 6% less likely to be employed than mothers of COA.
• Mothers of CWA earned 35%-56% less than mothers of COA.
• CWA were 9% less likely to live in two income families than COA.

• Pre-diagnosis, CWA were more likely than COA to have physical health problems, including walking on level ground, speech and language, hearing, eyesight, and asthma.
• Aged 3 years of age CWA experienced poorer emotional and social health than COA, this difference increased significantly by the time they were 7 years of age.
• Mothers of young CWA had lower levels of life satisfaction and poorer mental health than mothers of young COA.
• In mainstream education, children with ASD aged 11-16 years reported less satisfaction with their social relationships than COA.
• Younger children with ASD (aged 5 and 7 years) were less likely to enjoy school, were bullied more, and were more reluctant to attend school than COA.
• CWA attended school 2-3 weeks less than COA .
• Children with Asperger’s Syndrome in special schools missed the equivalent of 8-13 school days more than children with Asperger’s Syndrome in mainstream schools.
• Children with ASD attending mainstream schooling were less likely to gain 5+ GCSEs A*-C or subsequently attend university.

Further and Higher Education:
• Enrolment rates for students with ASD have risen in Further Education (FE), from 0% to 0.7%.
• Enrolment rates for students with ASD have risen in Higher Education (HE), from 0.28% to 0.45%.
• Students with ASD chose to study different subjects than students without ASD, although other factors, e.g., gender, age etc. may have played a part in subject selection.
• Students with ASD from NI were more likely than students without ASD to choose Northern Irish HE Institutions rather than study outside NI.

Participation in adult life and employment:
• A small number of adults with ASD (n=99) have benefitted from DES employment provision over the past 12 years.
• It is unknown how many adults with ASD have received employment support elsewhere (e.g. Steps to Work).

Awareness and Attitudes in the General Population:
• In both the 2003 and 2012 NI Life and Times Survey (NILTS), NI public reported positive attitudes towards the inclusion of children with ASD in mainstream education (see also BASE Project Vol. 2).

Gap Analysis Recommendations:
This was the first comprehensive secondary analysis with regards to ASD of existing large-scale data sets in Northern Ireland. Data gaps were identified and further replications would benefit from the following data inclusion:
• ASD should be recorded routinely in the following datasets:
o Census;
o Northern Ireland Survey of Activity Limitation (NISALD);
o Training for Success/Steps to work; Steps to Success;
o Travel survey;
o Hate crime; and
o Labour Force Survey.
• Data should be collected on the destinations/qualifications of special school leavers.
• NILT Survey autism module should be repeated in 5 years time (2017) (see full report of 1st NILT Survey autism module 2012 in BASE Project Report Volume 2).
• General public attitudes and awareness should be assessed for children and young people, using the Young Life and Times Survey (YLT) and the Kids Life and Times Survey (KLT); (this work is underway, Dillenburger, McKerr, Schubolz, & Lloyd, 2014-2015).

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBelfast
PublisherQueens University Belfast
Number of pages236
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2014


  • autism
  • secondary data analysis
  • employment
  • education

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