Autism in England: assessing underdiagnosis in a population-based cohort study of prospectively collected primary care data

O'Nions, Elizabeth; Petersen, Irene; Buckman, Joshua E J; Charlton, Rebecca A; Cooper, Claudia; Corbett, Anne; Happé, Francesca; Manthorpe, Jill; Richards, Marcus; Saunders, Rob; Zanker, Cathy; Mandy, Will and Stott, Joshua. 2023. Autism in England: assessing underdiagnosis in a population-based cohort study of prospectively collected primary care data. The Lancet Regional Health Europe, 29, 100626. ISSN 2666-7762 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Background: Autism has long been viewed as a paediatric condition, meaning that many autistic adults missed out on a diagnosis as children when autism was little known. We estimated numbers of diagnosed and undiagnosed autistic people in England, and examined how diagnostic rates differed by socio-demographic factors.

Methods: This population-based cohort study of prospectively collected primary care data from IQVIA Medical Research Data (IMRD) compared the prevalence of diagnosed autism to community prevalence to estimate underdiagnosis. 602,433 individuals registered at an English primary care practice in 2018 and 5,586,100 individuals registered between 2000 and 2018 were included.

Findings: Rates of diagnosed autism in children/young people were much higher than in adults/older adults. As of 2018, 2.94% of 10- to 14-year-olds had a diagnosis (1 in 34), vs. 0.02% aged 70+ (1 in 6000). Exploratory projections based on these data suggest that, as of 2018, 463,500 people (0.82% of the English population) may have been diagnosed autistic, and between 435,700 and 1,197,300 may be autistic and undiagnosed (59–72% of autistic people, 0.77%–2.12% of the English population). Age-related inequalities were also evident in new diagnoses (incidence): c.1 in 250 5- to 9-year-olds had a newly-recorded autism diagnosis in 2018, vs. c.1 in 4000 20- to 49-year-olds, and c.1 in 18,000 people aged 50+.

Interpretation: Substantial age-related differences in the proportions of people diagnosed suggest an urgent need to improve access to adult autism diagnostic services.

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Additional Information:

Dunhill Medical Trust, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, National Institute for Health Research, the Wellcome Trust, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Data Access Statement:

Individual participant data cannot be shared.


autism spectrum condition, primary care, underdiagnosis, under-diagnosis, incidence, prevalence

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March 2023Accepted
3 April 2023Published Online
June 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

14 Mar 2023 15:50

Last Modified:

17 Apr 2023 22:03

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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