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The Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Toddlers: A population study of two-year-old Swedish children

Participants: Gudrun Nygren, Thomas Arvidsson & Christopher Gillberg.

Background: Symptoms of autism can be noticed from the first years. Still the diagnosis of autism is often delayed by several years. Against this background, a project for early detection, clinical diagnosis and intervention in autism was started in Gothenburg in 2008.

Method: In 2010, autism screening was performed at the 2.5-year check-up at all Child Health Centres (CHCs) in the city, and all children with suspected ASD were referred to one center, serving the whole city. We report the prevalence rates for ASD in two-year-olds on the basis of a total population study in Gothenburg in 2010. Eighty per cent (5007 children) of the total population of 2.5-year-olds were screened with the new routines in 2010. The screening included a combination of the use of the parent Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) and a five-item nurse observation of joint attention (JA-OBS) at the CHC visit. The study population consisted of all two-year-olds referred to the Child Neuropsychiatry Clinic (CNC), at the age of two years (≥24 months and <36 months), with a suspicion of ASD and diagnosed there with an ASD. For comparison, estimated population prevalence rates for diagnosed ASD in the same age group from 2000 and 2005 were studied.

Results: 49 children were referred at the age of two years to the CNC with a suspicion of ASD and of these 45 were comprehensively assessed. 40 (8 girls and 32 boys) of the 45 “ASD suspected” children were given an ASD diagnosis after full in-depth clinical assessment. The findings correspond to a total ASD prevalence for two-year-olds of 0.80%. Corresponding rates for two-year-olds referred to the center in 2000 and 2005 (when no population screening occurred) were 0.18% and 0.04%. Results suggest that early screening contributes to a large increase in diagnosed ASD cases.


Nygren, G., Sandberg, E., Gillstedt, F., Ekeroth, G., Arvidsson, T., & Gillberg, C. (2012). A new screening programme for autism in a general population of Swedish toddlers. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 1200–1210.

Nygren, G., Cederlund, M., Sandberg, E., Gillstedt, F., Arvidsson, T., Carina Gillberg, I., . . . Gillberg, C. (2012). The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in toddlers: a population study of 2-year-old Swedish children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 1491-1497.




Page Manager: Anna Spyrou|Last update: 1/15/2013

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