A RESEARCH team led by the University of Exeter Medical School has been given more than £150,000 to investigate whether there is an increase in the number of children with conditions such as autism, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.
The windfall has been welcomed by Exeter's Lord Mayor Councillor Rob Newby, who chose Socops, a charity which supports families with autistic children, as his charity for the year.
Cllr Newby said: "It is great news that this money is available.
"Socops would be a great group to look at, and to get information from parents of autistic children.
"It is not just a charity. These parents live, breathe, eat and sleep autism, and got together when they had no idea where to get help and information."
The university team has received the funding from the Economic and Social Research Council and will be partially based at the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula.
The research has come about because of reported rises in the incidences of autism, dyslexia and ADHD, and through questions raised by parent groups and clinicians.
Last year, data from the Department of Education showed that cases of autism in schoolchildren had increased by 56 per cent over the previous five years.
The study will investigate whether there is an actual increase in the number of children with symptoms of the conditions, or whether the larger numbers can be explained by improved identification and diagnosis.
It will also analyse to what extent children share symptoms of the three conditions, and whether boys are more likely to receive a diagnosis than girls with equally severe symptoms.
Dr Ginny Russell, principal investigator on the study, said: "Ascertaining whether or not there is an actual increase in the incidences of such conditions will help us to establish whether we should intensify the search for environmental triggers.
"The project also has implications for diagnosis and recognition within health services."