A research team led by the University of Exeter Medical School has received funding of over £150,000 to investigate whether there is an increase in the number of children with behaviour-related conditions such as autism, dyslexia or ADHD, or whether the increase can be explained by better recognition and diagnosis.
The team has received the funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and will be partially based at the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).
The research has come about because of reported rises in the incidences of autism, dyslexia and ADHD, and through questions raised by parent groups and clinicians.
Last year data from the Department of Education showed that cases of autism in schoolchildren had increased by 56 per cent over the previous five years. The British Dyslexia Association states that around four per cent of the UK population are severely dyslexic, and that this is on the rise. ADHD affects 1.7 per cent of the UK population - just over one million people, most of whom are children. Again, many more children are identified with ADHD today than were 30 years ago.
The study will analyse two UK birth cohorts in which children were born 10 years apart. It will investigate whether there is an actual increase in the number of children with symptoms of the conditions, or whether the larger numbers can be explained by improved identification and diagnosis. The study will also analyse to what extent children share symptoms of the three conditions, and whether boys are more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls with equally severe symptoms.
Dr. Ginny Russell, Principal investigator on the study, said: "Ascertaining whether or not there is an actual increase in the incidences of such conditions will help us to establish whether we should intensify the search for environmental triggers. The project also has implications for diagnosis and recognition within health services."
The research team from the University of Exeter Medical School will collaborate with colleagues from the University's School of Social Science and with colleagues at the Universities of Bristol and Cardiff.