Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 46, Issue 12, pp 1283–1293 | Cite as

Social and demographic factors that influence the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders

  • Ginny RussellEmail author
  • Colin Steer
  • Jean Golding
Original Paper



Recent studies in epidemiology have highlighted the existence of children with autistic difficulties who remain undiagnosed. Other studies have identified ‘access barriers’ to clinics which include factors mediated by parents as well as health and education services. The purpose of this study was to examine whether social and demographic factors play a role in receiving a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) independently of symptom severity.


Retrospective secondary analysis of a longitudinal UK cohort study, namely, the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).


With the severity of autistic traits held constant, boys were more likely to receive an ASD diagnosis than girls. Younger mothers and mothers of first-born children were significantly less likely to have children diagnosed with ASD. Maternal depression before and around the time of their children’s autistic difficulties was associated with lack of diagnosis.


The study provides evidence that social as well as biological factors can influence whether children are brought to the clinic.


Pervasive developmental disorders ALSPAC Autism Autistic spectrum disorders Child psychiatry Access barriers 



We are extremely grateful to all the families who took part in this study, the midwives for their help in recruiting them, and the whole ALSPAC team, which includes interviewers, computer and laboratory technicians, clerical workers, research scientists, volunteers, managers, receptionists and nurses. The UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the University of Bristol currently provide core support for ALSPAC. The work of the first author was specifically funded by the Medical Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ESRC Centre for Genomics in SocietyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  2. 2.Centre for Child and Adolescent HealthUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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