AimsThis study aims to estimate Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) prevalence in school-aged children in the province of Pisa (Italy) using the strategy of the ASD in the European Union (ASDEU) project.
METHODS: A multistage approach was used to identify cases in a community sample (N = 10 138) of 7-9-year-old children attending elementary schools in Pisa - Italy. First, the number of children with a disability certificate was collected from the Local Health Authority and an ASD diagnosis was verified by the ASDEU team. Second, a Teacher Nomination form (TN) to identify children at risk for ASD was filled in by teachers who joined the study and the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) was filled in by the parents of children identified as positive by the TN; a comprehensive assessment, which included the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Second Edition, was performed for children with positive TN and SCQ⩾9.
RESULTS: A total of 81 children who had a disability certificate also had ASD (prevalence: 0.79%, i.e. 1/126). Specifically, 66 children (57 males and nine females; 62% with intellectual disability -ID-) were certified with ASD, whereas another 15 (11 males and four females; 80% with ID) were recognised as having ASD among those certified with another neurodevelopmental disorder. Considering the population of 4417 (children belonging to schools which agreed to participate in the TN/SCQ procedure) and using only the number of children certified with ASD, the prevalence (38 in 4417) was 0.86%, i.e. one in 116. As far as this population is concerned, the prevalence rises to 1% if we consider the eight new cases (six males and two females; no subject had ID) identified among children with no pre-existing diagnoses and to 1.15%, i.e., one in 87, if probabilistic estimation is used.
CONCLUSIONS: This is the first population-based ASD prevalence study conducted in Italy so far and its results indicate a prevalence of ASD in children aged 7-9 years of about one in 87. This finding may help regional, national and international health planners to improve ASD policies for ASD children and their families in the public healthcare system.