Trends in Autism Prevalence – Taiwan

Trends in the prevalence of childhood disability: Analysis of data from the national disability registry of Taiwan, 2000-2011.


Childhood disability is not uncommon, but data at the national level are limited, especially those on the changes in the prevalence over time.

On the basis of the Disabled Welfare Act, Taiwan began to certify disabled residents and provide various services in 1980. All the cases receiving services are registered, and the registry provides a rare opportunity for studying childhood disability at the national level. Using the data from 2000 to 2011, we calculated the age-specific prevalence of all disability combined and assessed the changes over time. We also calculated the prevalence rate and the proportion in all disabilities combined for each disability category and assessed the trends. As certification before 3 years old is generally discouraged by the government, we limited analyses to children between 3 and 17 years old.

We found that the registered cases ranged from 49,242 to 61,717 from 2000 to 2011 and that intellectual disability (ID), had been the leading category all through the years.

The proportion of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) had been increasing rapidly and become the third leading disability in 2011.

The prevalence of all disabilities combined increased constantly from 9.98/1000 to 15.41/1000 (p<0.01), and increases were generally observed every year in all age groups (p<0.01).

The increase could largely be attributable to the increases in ID and ASD, while the increasing trends were also significant in “multiple disabilities,” “speech or language impairment,” and “other disabilities listed by the Department of Health” (p<0.01 for all the five categories).

An increase with age in the prevalence of all disabilities combined could be observed all through the years (p<0.01 in all calendar years). We concluded that the prevalence of childhood disability has been increasing in Taiwan, with ID contributing the most cases and ASD as an emerging problem.

However, the increase of prevalence cannot be attributed entirely to the increase in the occurrence of cases, and an increase in the proportion of cases registered was an more important factor, which may be in turn attributable to a better service of the related agencies, lower discrimination against the patients, higher awareness of the disorder, and more willingness of the guardians to register.

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