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Increased autism diagnosis in the UK

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Elizabeth Weir.

Epidemiological work from the UK has observed an exponential increase in reported diagnosis. The talk covers a study of autism diagnosis from primary care data covering 9 million patients in the UK over a 20 year period. Increased diagnosis was steeper in females, and adults, suggesting this is an artefact of increased diagnosis and reporting rather than an increase in autism per se. The reasons for the observed UK trend will be assessed leaving plenty of time for discussion. Autistic traits are normally distributed in the population, hence there are more autistic people with less severe traits nearer the population mean: if less severe traits are encapsulated in diagnostic protocols, an exponential increase will result; a process known as ‘diagnostic creep’. Discussion will centre on diagnosis as an object: how diagnosis of autism is intertwined with self-identification and culturally available narratives, which contribute to mass de-stigmatisation and feedback loops. It will refer to Hacking’s “making up people”, which discusses the evolution of diagnostic categories as an interplay of social movements, health institutions and science.

This talk is part of the ARClub Talks series.

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