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Recent trends in the diagnosis of developmental disorders: are there really more children with autism, dyslexia and ADHD?

1 April 2013 - 30 September 2014

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Ginny Russell

CI/s in Exeter: Emeritus Professor Susan Kelly

Funding awarded: £ 147,104

Sponsor(s): ESRC

Project webpage(s)

Recent trends in the diagnosis of developmental disorders: are there really more children with autism, dyslexia and ADHD?

About the research

This project was funded by the ESRC under its Secondary Data Analysis Initiative, and ran from 2013-2014.

The number of children diagnosed with childhood developmental disorders, including autism has risen sharply over the last 20 years. The project’s primary aim was to examine whether the proportion of children with the symptoms that underpin autism increased over a ten year period. 

The findings from this analysis are discussed in an accompanying podcast and video.

The project also assessed the association between ADHD and socio-economic disadvantage. This led to a PhD studentship for Abby Russell.

Finally, the study identified children with reading difficulties (characteristic of dyslexia), analysing which child and family characteristics predicted dyslexia, and assessing how frequently children with reading difficulties are given either an autism or ADHD diagnosis.

Associated Publications

Russell, G., Collishaw, S., Golding, J, Kelly, S &  Ford, T. (2015)  Changes in diagnosis rates and behavioural traits of autism spectrum disorder over time: a cross-cohort comparison. British Journal of Psychiatry –Open 2, 110–115.

Russell, A., Ford, T. & Russell, G. (2015) Socioeconomic associations with ADHD: findings from a mediation analysis Plos-one. June 1, 2015 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0128248

Russell, G. Ryder, D.  Norwich, B. & Ford, T.  (2015) Behavioural difficulties that co-occur with specific word reading difficulties: a UK population- based cohort study. Dyslexia.

Russell, G., Ford, T., Rosenberg, R. & Kelly, S. (2014) The association of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with socio-economic disadvantage: Alternative explanations and evidence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 55(5) 436-445: DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12170

Russell, G., Ukoumunne, O., Ryder, D., Golding, J, & Norwich, B. (under revision) Predictors of word reading ability in seven year old children: A UK cohort study.  Journal of Research in Reading.

Other outputs

Magazine articles

An accurate diagnosis? Nasen: Special. (July 2015) National Association of Special Educational Needs Coordinators, p24-25.

Across the Spectrum. Britain in 2015. ESRC Publications. p230-38.


Recent trends in symptoms and diagnosis of autism: a cross cohort comparison. Society for Research in Child Development, Philadelphia USA, March 2015

Is there an epidemic of autism in the UK?  British Association for Childhood Disability annual Meeting, January, 2015

Time Trends in diagnosis rates and symptom levels of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Royal College of Psychiatrists, Annual Meeting, Cardiff, UK, Sept 2014

UK cohorts in social science research: Comparing data from two longitudinal birth cohorts. Launch of Q-Step Centre , School of Social Science, University of Exeter,  March 2014.

The development of dyslexia: Findings from the Millennium Cohort, UK. International Conference on Language and Communication, Bangkok, Thailand, Dec 2013.

Shifts in diagnosis and prevalence of autism. Autism Today: Winter Meeting. International Conference Centre, Manchester, Nov 2013.

Project team

Dr Ginny Russell is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the medical school and at the Egenis research centre in School of Social Science. Her research encompasses developmental psychology, health services research and sociology. She is the primary contact for questions relating to this project.

Professor Tamsin Ford is an academic child and adolescent psychiatrist. She leads a group of researchers whose work focuses on the effectiveness of services and interventions to support mental health and well-being of children and young people.

Dr Stephan Collishaw is a developmental psychologist at the University of Cardiff. 

Professor Susan Kelly is a medical sociologist. She is the leader of the Health Technology and Society research group.

Dr Obioha Ukoumunne is a senior medical statistician.

Professor Jean Golding OBE is Professor Emeritus of Paediatric Epidemiology at the University of Bristol.




Economic and Social Research Council