Monday, April 11, 2011

Researchers track down autism rates across the globe

Because of stigma, lack of awareness about mental health and poor medical infrastructure, few autism prevalence studies exist outside of the U.S., Canada and the U.K. "Even though it seems like anybody and everybody has heard of autism, in many places in the world it's still sort of a new topic," says Charles Zaroff, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Macau in China. Zaroff and Grinker are part of a small but growing group of researchers charting autism in new territories. Rigorous autism screening studies are underway not only in South Korea, but in Mexico, India and South Africa. In the past year, prevalence estimates from Brazil1, Oman2 and Western Australia3 have been published in mainstream journals for the first time. Calculating prevalence is often the first step toward launching government and nonprofit mental health services in these countries. Numbers can also lead to scientific insights on the genetic, environmental and cultural underpinnings of autism. "It's been a big question for years to ask: Is there any difference across countries and across cultures in the rates of autism?" notes Eric Fombonne, professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, who has led autism epidemiological studies in a half-dozen countries.

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