Objective: The rate of reported pervasive developmental disorders has increased, and the authors found a rate of 62.6 per 10,000 in a previous study of preschoolers in Stafford, U.K. They conducted another survey in 2002 to estimate the prevalence in children in a later birth cohort and to compare it to previous findings from the same area.
Method: Screening for developmental problems included 10,903 children ages 4.0 to 6.0 years who were living in a Midlands town on the survey date. Children with symptoms suggestive of pervasive developmental disorders were intensively assessed by a multidisciplinary team using standardized diagnostic interviews, psychometric tests, and medical workups.
Results: Sixty-four children (85.9% boys) were diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders. The prevalence was 58.7 per 10,000, with a 95% confidence interval (CI) of 45.2-74.9, for all pervasive developmental disorders, 22.0 per 10,000 (95% CI=14.1-32.7) for autistic disorder, and 36.7 per 10,000 (95% CI=26.2-49.9) for other variants. These rates were not significantly different from the previous rates. The mean age at diagnosis was 37.8 months, and 53.1% of the children were originally referred by health visitors. Of the 64 children with pervasive developmental disorders, 29.8% had mental retardation, but this rate varied by disorder subtype. Few children had associated medical conditions.
Conclusions: The rate of pervasive developmental disorders is higher than reported 15 years ago. The rate in this study is comparable to that in previous birth cohorts from the same area and surveyed with the same methods, suggesting a stable incidence.