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Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 17:30 GMT
Autism levels are 'ten times higher'
Autism sufferer
Scientists say they don't know what causes autism increase
Autism levels have increased ten-fold over the past decade, according to research.

Some people have linked the increase in autism to the controversial MMR jab, but others feel it could be linked to a number of environmental factors.

The Autism Research Unit, which is part of the University of Sunderland, said it was unable to rule out a link with the MMR and autism.

And researchers called for further investigations to look at what is causing the huge increases.

There are a lot of things that are a possibility for the cause of the increase, but we wouldn't rule out a link with the MMR jab

Paul Shattock, of the Autism Research Unit

Paul Shattock from the Autism Research Unit, said: "There are a lot of things that are a possibility for the cause of the increase, but we wouldn't rule out a link with the MMR jab.

"I think it should be investigated properly," he said.

Big increase

Mr Shattock, who is also the vice-president of the World Autism Organisation, said the finding was based on an analysis of data collected between 1966 and 1999.

The findings will be presented at a conference in April.

He said: "We have been doing research for many years with the 6,000 people in our database where we have looked at dates of births of people with autism to see if there is a large increase and other researchers have found great similarities in their data.

"Our early data does suggest that there is a big increase and tenfold over 10 years is the figure we have at the moment."

The National Autistic Society said the research was "interesting", but said it was difficult to record autism figures as there is no central data base.

Spokesman David Potter said: "It doesn't explain necessarily any increase in autism.

"They are interesting figures but because we haven't ever had the central recording that is necessary to compare one year with another, it is very difficult to know whether there are real increases in autism or not."

Mr Potter said there are currently about 500,000 people in the UK diagnosed with autism of varying degrees.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that the MMR is safe and that studies have so far failed to find a link between MMR and autism.

"We believe that MMR is safe and it continues to be the recommended vaccine for children," he said.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.

Children and adults with autism are unable to relate to others in a meaningful way.

Their ability to develop friendships is impaired as is their capacity to understand other people's feelings.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Health
Autism rates 'not rising'
13 Feb 01 | Scotland
Parents' fears over MMR remain
09 Feb 01 | Health
MMR 'cleared' of autism link
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