Adults with autistic spectrum conditions

Adults with autistic spectrum conditions

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder which affects the way people interact with the world around them.


  • 400,000 people are estimated to have autistic spectrum conditions in the UK. Of these 160,000 are estimated to have Asperger Syndrome. 70,000 are estimated to have a severe learning disability.
  • Adults with a more severe learning disability have a greater likelihood of having autism according to a report published in 2012 by the NHS information centre. The report combines data from the adult psychiatric morbidity survey (APMS) 2007 with findings from a more recent study based on a sample of people with learning disabilities living in private households and communal care establishments.

The report estimates that the prevalence of autism:

  • is 1% in the general population
  • is approximately 35% among adults with severe learning disabilities living in private households
  • is approximately 31% among adults with mild or severe learning disabilities living in communal care establishments
  • increases with greater severity of learning disability or lower verbal IQ
While the study comprised a relatively small sample with limited geographical coverage (Leicestershire, Lambeth and Sheffield) and did not include the institutional population, it did include two distinct populations (people in communal care establishments and people with learning disabilities), which were not covered by the APMS 2007.
  • Information on the number and nature of autistic spectrum conditions is highlighted by specialist organisations as a serious issue in its own right.
  • A long-standing problem has been people with autism being refused support because they do not fit easily into mental health or learning disability services.
  • To improve access to and responsiveness of services, there needs to be:
    • improved diagnostic services and clear pathways to care and support
    • better access to mental health services where required, and the provision of adjustments to meet individual needs
    • greater awareness of autism among healthcare and social care professionals
According to the National Autistic Society 'I exist report' (2008), only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time paid employment and 49% of adults with autism still live at home with their parents. Of those adults who live on their own, 44% say that their families provide most of their support.

Northumberland (2012 data)

Based on national prevalence rates, it would be expected that approximately 3,120 Northumberland residents would have an ASD, 2,770 of whom would be aged 18 and over.

From local authority data, approximately 400 adults (over 18 years) are known to services (250 in community learning disability teams and 150 known to mental health teams). This suggests that there are many more people living in the community with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who are not receiving formal help.

The number of adults in Northumberland who have a learning disability and Autism Spectrum Disorder known to social care is 250. 149 of these people have a formal diagnosis, 105 of whom receive services in addition to a care manager. Out of the 101 people who have suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder but no formal diagnosis, only 19 have no other social care services other than a care manager. The majority require additional services.

The number of children and young people (aged 16-20 years) in Northumberland with Autism Spectrum Disorder completing the transition process to adult services is thought to be about 105. The number going through transition is likely to increase in future years as the effect of consistent diagnostic guidelines is felt.

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