WHO updates fact sheet on Autism Spectrum Disorders (6 April 2017)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

Background information:

ASD refers to a range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are both unique to the individual and carried out repetitively.

ASDs begin in childhood and tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood. In most cases the conditions are apparent during the first 5 years of life.

Individuals with ASD often present other co-occurring conditions, including

  • epilepsy,
  • depression,
  • anxiety and
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The level of intellectual functioning in individuals with ASDs is extremely variable, extending from profound impairment to superior levels.

Key Messages:

1 in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The prevalence of ASD appears to be increasing globally. There are many possible explanations for this apparent increase, including

  • improved awareness,
  • expansion of diagnostic criteria,
  • better diagnostic tools and
  • improved reporting.

There are probably many factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental and genetic factors.

Available epidemiological data are conclusive that there is no evidence of a causal association between measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and ASD. Previous studies suggesting a causal link were found to be filled with methodological flaws.

There is no evidence to suggest that any other childhood vaccine may increase the risk of ASD. Evidence reviews of the potential association between thiomersal preservative and aluminium adjuvants contained in inactivated vaccines and the risk of ASD strongly concluded that vaccines do not increase the risk of ASDs.

While some people with ASD can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.

Intervention during early childhood is important to promote the optimal development and well-being of people with an ASD.

A cure for ASD is not available.

Evidence-based psychosocial interventions, such as behavioural treatment and parent skills training programmes, can reduce difficulties in communication and social behaviour, with a positive impact on wellbeing and quality of life for persons with ASD and their caregivers.

Interventions for people with ASD need to be accompanied by broader actions for making physical, social and attitudinal environments more accessible, inclusive and supportive.

Worldwide, people with ASD are often subject to stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. Globally, access to services and support for people with ASD is inadequate.

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to article in the BMJ about retraction of Wakefield’s MMR paper in the Lancet (free sign-up required):


Link to the report of a WHO meeting on Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disorders (English) [PDF] (2013):


Link to Easy Read version of above report:



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