Research Summary

Autism Spectrum Disorder among Children and Youth in Canada 2018: A Report of the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System

Christopher Kilmer | University of Calgary
1 in 66 Canadian children aged 5-17 years are estimated to have a diagnosis of autism, with more males being diagnosed than females. This review increases our understanding of autism nationally, and can inform future programs and policies.

Photo By Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels


What you need to know:

Researchers collected 2015 data from 6 provinces and 1 territory about young people aged 5-17 in order to learn about the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although there was slight variation across the provinces and territory in which data was accessed, they found that overall, 1 in 66 children have a diagnosis of ASD, with males more likely to be diagnosed than females. This research can help inform future policy, programs and research.

What is this research about?

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) led a project to learn about the number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Canada. This knowledge can help us understand the prevalence of ASD in Canada as well as contributing to greater awareness about ASD, and informing future research and policy development.

What did the researchers do?

PHAC engaged in a process called public health surveillance, in which available data was gathered from 6 provinces and 1 territory, in order to account for the number of children and youth, aged 5-17 years with ASD, and to communicate these results to the public. In this instance, a collaboration of federal, provincial, and territorial governments partnered with PHAC to achieve this goal. Data was collected from multiple sources and using various formats, including health and education records, existing databases and surveys. Available data was reviewed by trained individuals. Data from the following provinces and territory were used: British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon. In total, the data collected represented 40% of the total young people aged 5-17 years in Canada.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that overall 1 in 66 children aged 5-17 years had a diagnosis of ASD.
This number ranged across the participating provinces and territory, from 1 in 57 in Newfoundland and Labrador to 1 in 126 in the Yukon. Compared to data from earlier years, the prevalence rate of ASD has increased over time. This data is similar to what has been reported in the United States. 

In this Canadian report, males were approximately 4 times more likely to be diagnosed than females, which is also comparable to the United States’ reported rate of 4.5 times more likely. In Canada, 56% of those included in the sample had received an ASD diagnosis by age 6, 72% by age 8, and 92% by age 12.
In the future, the researchers would like to collect data from all Canadian provinces and territories to complete a more accurate picture of ASD in Canada. They would also like to look at different elements of the data, such as ethnicity and co-occurring conditions, and also to examine the data relative to different age ranges, such as younger children and adults. 

How can you use this research?

This study increases our understanding of ASD in Canada. Policy makers and program developers can use this data to help inform needed supports for individuals with ASD and their families. Researchers can use this data to guide their studies. It is hoped that the guidance this review provides will contribute to improving the quality of life for individuals with ASD and their families.


Ofner, M., Coles, A., Decou, M.L., Do, M. T., Bienek, A., Snider, J., & Ugnat, A. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder among children and youth in Canada 2018: A report of the national autism spectrum disorder surveillance system. Retrieved from

This summary was written by Christopher Kilmer, Research Coordinator, in the Vocational Abilities Innovation Lab, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.
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