Competition S3: winning entries

Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition S3, based on Professor Charles Newton’s Going Further challenge on the topic ‘Meandering Through Medicine’. Below you can read the winning entry, selected by our team of markers.

Kuba’s winning entry

Why autism may have increased in the past few decades

Autism doesn’t just have one clear definition; it can affect people in many different ways and has a spectrum of conditions. It can make those affected find it hard to communicate and interact with the people around them, and can mean that it’s harder to understand things.

These wide range of symptoms could mean that autism isn’t always recognised, especially when the definition has only become clearer in the past few decades. The innovation in technology and the understanding of autism has grown rapidly in the last few years, and so has meant that autism is more likely to be recognised. For example, in 2011 – 2012, the National Centre for Health Statistics in the USA published a finding which showed a rate of autism of 1 in 50 children aged 6-17. However, in 1963 Victor Lotter published findings which gave a rate of 4.5 autistic children per 10,000 children – a much lower rate. It’s clear that Lotter had less understanding of autism, which meant that less children were diagnosed.

However, there has been research which suggests that it’s not only due to this. CDC researchers scanned records for signs of autism every two years for 8-year-olds, and saw an increase of 30% in the number of autistic children they diagnosed. This approach is very effective because it takes a snapshot of all children who live in a certain area, not just those who have a diagnosis. This highlights how the increase in autism levels may not only be a cause of a wider diagnosis checklist, despite the research being on a smaller scale.

In conclusion, it is hard to say exactly what has caused the increase in autism in the past few decades, as there isn’t strong evidence that there are actually more cases, even with the changing definitions.