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Dublin: 14°C Wednesday 25 May 2022

Rate of autism among Irish school students much higher than previously estimated

14,000 students in Ireland have an autism diagnosis – that’s one in every 65.

THERE IS A much higher rate of autism among Irish school students than previously thought, a major new report has found.

The study, from the National Council for Special Education, found that 14,000 students have an autism diagnosis – that’s one in every 65 students or 1.5% of the school population.

A previous study, conducted in 2013, estimated that there was a one in 100 autism rate among Irish children.

The Department of Education has set up an implementation group to study the implications of the findings.


The NCSE report recommends more investment in the school system to develop teacher knowledge and understanding of autism.

The organisation says teachers should be allowed select the appropriate “evidence informed interventions” according to the needs of each student.

shutterstock_141409255 Source: Shutterstock/Oksana Kuzmina

The report also found that there had been a substantial increase in investment in the area – noting that over €300 million is now invested annually in additional teaching, technology and other supports for children.

63% of students with autism attend mainstream schools, it was found. A further 23% attend special classes in mainstream primary and secondary schools, while 14% attend special schools. There are now over 900 special classes for students with autism, up from fewer than 80 in 2001.

NCSE CEO Teresa Griffin said Ireland needed “a flexible and responsive educational system which can draw on, and use, a range of evidence-informed interventions in line with each student’s needs”.


Autism spectrum disorders are characterised by difficulties in social interaction and communication and a restricted, repetitive repertoire of interests and activities.

Global studies have estimated that one child in every 160 has an autism spectrum disorder, but the World Health Organisation says recent studies have reported rates that are substantially higher.

According to the WHO’s definition, the level of intellectual functioning is extremely variable in persons with an autism spectrum disorder, ranging from profound impairment to superior non-verbal cognitive skills.

Read: How a dip in a pool can help open up a new world for children with autism >

Read: Concerns over Dublin visit of religious group claiming it set a child with autism ‘free from demons’ >

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