The number of known autism cases in Alberta has risen 600% over the past 30 years, states a University of Calgary study.
Research shows one-in-94 school-age kids in the Calgary area have the disorder, though that figure could be much higher, according to the study by The School of Public Policy.
Knowing the scope of the challenge should be a wake-up call for the province, whose supports for families with autistic kids falls off dramatically once they reach adulthood, said Laura Ghali, one of the report’s authors.
“It’s a very steep cliff because the degree the school system is providing support is far greater than when they hit the adult system,” she said.
“We could have as many as one-in-68 in the school system.”
Autism is a neurological condition that disrupts social, communication and cognitive skills.
The think tank canvassed the Calgary Board of Education for its figures on autistic students and noticed the numbers dropped off among high school students.
That suggests drop-outs or those later home-schooled might not be counted.
As for the massive increase in overall numbers among youth, it might be greater awareness and better diagnosis, or an unexplained higher frequency, said study co-author Carolyn Dudley.
“We’re really uncertain about what’s going on — children 30 years ago considered mentally retarded are now considered autistic,” she said.
The think tank also found that generous supports offered to autism families here in Alberta isn’t attracting similar families from other provinces.
Autism frequency in other provinces don’t differ greatly from that in Alberta, said the think-tank’s Herb Emery.
“It’s an urban myth — no one’s moving here for the supports,” he said.
But he said both educators and provincial support systems must take note of the disability that’s graduating 140 autistic students a year into adulthood — a number that will soon be 150.
The annual cost for caregivers runs from $30,000 to $100,000, added Emery.
“We’ll have to think about Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) if we can’t improve employment outcomes,” he said.
“We think this is a big policy issue.”