§ Jacqui Smith
The number of children identified as having autism is increasing. Although the full explanation for this increase is not clear, it is at least in part due to improvement in diagnosis by the clinical professions, including child mental health specialists and community paediatricians.
The Department has recently asked the Medical Research Council to conduct a detailed review of the current state of knowledge about autism and to suggest possible areas for further research. The aim is to obtain a clear and comprehensive picture of what is currently known about the incidence, prevalence and causes of autism and how strong the evidence is which underpins that knowledge.
§ Jacqui Smith
We have recently announced the establishment of a working party to develop new guidance on how the needs of young disabled children aged 0–2 and their families can be met. This guidance, which will 287W be issued jointly by the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health will cover issues such as early diagnosis, intervention and support.
A group chaired by Professor Ann Le Couteur, the National Initiative on Autism, is looking at diagnosis and early interventions in autism. This is being funded by the National Autistic Society. We will consider what, if any, further action needs to be taken in the light of the group's report.
A number of diagnostic tools have been developed in recent years. These include the diagnostic interview for social and communication disorders whose further development is being led by the National Autistic Society.