Some parents are claiming their children have autism to gain an advantage at school even though they're fine, according to the provocative comments of one expert.
Sociology professor Frank Furedi said this partly explains the latest Government figures that say the number of schoolchildren who are classified as being autistic has soared by 56 per cent in the last five years.
There are now 61,570 schoolchildren in the state-funded sector that have been recorded as having some kind of autistic spectrum disorder and they make up almost one percent of the entire school population.
Just five years ago, the number of children classified as being autistic was just 39,465 and they accounted for just 0.5 per cent of the school population.
"It is unlikely to be a genuine unprecedented increase in autism, rather an institutional use of this condition to allow people to get easier access to resources.
"This activity ends up trivialising what is a very serious condition for some children."
The Government's definition of autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, and how a person makes sense of the world around them.
The term is used to cover a variety of autistic conditions including Asperger's syndrome. Data from the Department of Education shows that in 2006 autistic children made up just one in every 200 pupils.
The latest figures put that ratio at one in every 125 children. Autism can cause learning problems for children.
Around 20 per cent of autistic pupils have been suspended from school more than once and around 50 per cent say they have been bullied at school.
Nick Seaton, a spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said: "Obviously children with autism need special treatment.
"But the rapid increase does suggest that perhaps the figures should be looked at again.
"Children should not be classified as having special needs too easily. The rise should be examined closely because it has a knock-on effect for teachers, schools and the pupils themselves."
Caroline Hattersley, Head of Information, Advice and Advocacy at The National Autistic Society, said: "A recent NHS study revealed that the prevalence of autism is 1 in 100 and that the same rate applies for adults as for children.
"We know that with accurate diagnosis the right support can be put in place so that children with autism can reach their full potential.
"It's very likely that all teachers and school staff will come into contact with children with autism at some stage during their teaching career, so it's vital that they receive quality training and strategies to support these children in the classroom."
What's your experience?
Could the increase in numbers be down to a better and earlier diagnosis of autism?
Or is the condition being used as 'an excuse'?
More:Advice And Health
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