Published Nov. 5, 2012
The Medical University of South Carolina is studying the prevalence of autism in the tri-county area to help determine where services are most needed.
Autism Speaks, a national autism science and advocacy organization, awarded MUSC a $1 million grant to conduct the study. The project, called the South Carolina Children’s Educational Surveillance Study, will conduct broad screening and targeted diagnostic assessments to better understand child development among 8-year-old children and estimate the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the community.
The study aims to evaluate all children born in 2004 and living in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.
“This study is the first of its kind to be conducted in the U.S.,” said Laura Carpenter, co-principal investigator. “What makes it particularly exciting is that we really don’t know what we will find.
“On the one hand, similar studies in other countries have found high rates of autism in the general population, maybe higher than we currently suspect. On the other hand, many people also think that autism is being over diagnosed.”
Surveys will be sent to parents of children born in 2004 and enrolled in school. More than 130 schools including public, private, charter and home schools will be included. The survey will ask parents about their child’s social development.
Lydia King, also a co-principal investigator, said all survey results will be kept confidential and participating families will receive a letter or phone call regarding their child’s status.
Some children will be invited to participate in a second study phase, which will be compensated. Parents who complete the original survey are not obligated to participate in the second phase.
Walter Jenner, information officer for the study, said the results of the study will be available in 2015 and will be a resource for legislators and professionals.
“It should help communities in planning and policy decisions,” Jenner said. “Some of the resources that are needed include therapies, trained teachers, diagnosticians, health care providers and related service professionals.
“Understanding the characteristics and number of children who have (autism spectrum disorders) is key in promoting awareness of the condition, helping educators and providers to plan and coordinate service delivery and identifying important clues for further research,” she said.
The research team will be in Charleston County schools during the 2012-2013 school year and in Dorchester and Berkeley county schools during the 2013-2014 school year. Private school and home school students will participate during both years.