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Prepared by Prof Cheryl Dissanayake AM

July 2024


To date, there has been no large-scale, systematic epidemiological study on the prevalence of autism in Australia. The research to date has relied on state-based registries (e.g., Williams et al., 2008) and federal government data (Bent et al., 2015). Furthermore, studies using representative national samples have relied on parent and teacher reports regarding diagnoses (May et al., 2017, 2020; Randall et al., 2016) rather than those verified by clinicians.

Barbaro et al (2022) utilised ‘gold standard’ tools to diagnose autism in very young children (12- to 42-months) following independent screening of over 13,000 children by Maternal and Child Health nurses trained to identify early behavioural signs. The results indicated that 1 in 31 children (3.2%) are autistic. This figure broadly aligns with data from other western industrialized nations including the latest Centre for Disease Control (CDC) prevalence figures on 8-year-olds from the US (1 in 36; CDC, 2023) and the prevalence data from the UK of 1 in 34 amongst 10- to14-year-olds (O’Nions et al., 2023).

In finalising and adopting the National Autism Strategy, the AABA calls on the Australian Government to commit sufficient resources to improve the life outcomes for all 3.2% of the population who are autistic.


Barbaro, J., Sadka, N., Gilbert, M., Beattie, E., Li, X., Ridgway, L., Lawson, L. P., & Dissanayake, C. (2022). Diagnostic accuracy of the Social Attention and Communication Surveillance-Revised with Preschool Tool for early autism detection in very young children. JAMA Network Open, 5, e2146415.

Bent, C., Barbaro, J., & Dissanayake, C. (2017). Mapping the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders in children under 7 years in Australia: 2010 – 2012. Medical Journal of Australia, 202, 317-320.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder; Prevalence. Accessed Oct 2023:

May T, Brignell A, & Williams K. (2020). Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevalence in Children Aged 12-13 Years From the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Autism Research,13, 821-827.

May, T., Sciberras, E., Brignell, A., et al. (2017). Autism Spectrum Disorder: Updated prevalence and comparison of two birth cohorts in a nationally representative Australian sample. BMJ Open, 7, e015549.

O’Nions, E., Petersen, I., Buckman, J.E.J., Charlton, R., Cooper, C., Corbett, A., Happé, F., et al. (2023). Autism in England: assessing underdiagnosis in a population based cohort study of prospectively collected primary care data. The Lancet Regional Health – Europe: 100626.

Randall, M., Sciberras, E., Brignell, A., Ihsen, E., Efron, D., Dissanayake, C., & Williams, K. (2016). Autism spectrum disorder: Presentation and prevalence in a nationally representative Australian sample. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 50, 243–253.

Williams, K., MacDermott, S., Ridley, G., Glasson, E.J., Wray, J.A. (2008). The prevalence of autism in Australia. Can it be established from existing data? Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 44, 504-510.

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