Autism Diagnoses in Israel Jump Almost Fivefold Since 2004

Social Affairs Ministry’s report for 2011 found sharp and continual increase in incidence of the disorder; over half those with autism are children under 14, particularly between ages 5-9.

Talila Nesher
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Talila Nesher

The number of Israelis diagnosed with autism has jumped fivefold ov the last eight years, according to the Social Affairs Ministry’s 2011 survey of social services. The figures show that between 2004 and 2011, there was a sharp and continual increase in the diagnosis of autism, which shot up from 1,507 in 2004 to 7,344 in 2011. The incidence of autism per 10,000 people rose by a factor of 4.3 – from 2.2 to 9.5. Each year there are about 1,000 newly diagnosed cases of autism.

Over half of those with autism are children up to the age of 14, with an emphasis on those aged 5-9. According to the ministry, the rate of diagnosis among native Israelis is higher than among those born abroad, a trend that has continued over the long term.

The figures also indicate that the percentage of children and adolescents registered in the ministry’s social services departments increases with age: Between the ages of 12-17, about a quarter of all children in the country are registered. More than 60 percent of the children registered in these departments live in families with money problems, the ministry found.

About half the children live in families in which, according to the social workers' assessment, there are problems in parental functioning, a problem between the couple, or parents who demonstrate non-normative behavior (for example, addictions). Over 40 percent of the children live in families where the parents suffer from illnesses and disabilities. Only a few children were reported as demonstrating serious behavioral problems themselves.

The report also deals with the involvement of adolescents in criminal activity. In 2011, 6 percent of all the 17-year-olds in the country were registered in the Juvenile Probation Service (involved in criminal activity). For every 1,000 12-year-olds, six are referred to the service, and for every 1,000 17-year olds, 36 are referred to the service.

Regarding adult involvement in crime, the past eight years have seen a decline of 50 percent in the percentage of referrals to the parole system for crimes of drug dealing and use, and in 2011 the total was about 0.6 per thousand as compared to 1.2 per thousand in 2004. On the other hand, there was an increase of 70 percent in referrals for crimes of violence outside the family during the years 2004 to 2011 (up from 0.7 per thousand in 2004 to 1.1 per thousand in 2011). Men constitute 95 percent of all referrals to the Adult Probation Service, with the highest rate occurring among the 22-25 age group.

Another part of the report devoted to adoption in Israel indicates that within five years, there was a decline of 37.3 percent in the adoption of children. In 2011 only 203 children were adopted in Israel and two-thirds of them came from foreign countries. Out of these, 84 percent were brought from Russia and 16 percent from Ukraine.

Parents of autistic children demonstrating in front of the education minister's house, August 2011.Credit: Moti Milrod

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