As many as one third of children suspended from British schools for displaying disruptive or aggressive behaviors could actually be exhibiting signs of undiagnosed autism, new research indicates.

In a study of 26 British elementary school students at risk for suspension or who were suspended from school, scientists found that one in three qualified for a diagnosis of autism.

The findings are surprising, researchers say, because none of the students — who attended 16 different schools — were previously suspected of having the developmental disorder. Instead school staff pegged the students as unruly and disruptive.

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Researchers conducted diagnostic evaluations of the students, interviewed their parents and had the students’ teachers fill out questionnaires in order to assess whether they should be identified as autistic.

Results from the study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry on Thursday indicate that teachers need more help identifying students who may be experiencing symptoms of autism, the lead researcher said.

The problem could be widespread, with a recent survey suggesting that nearly 4,000 British elementary school students were suspended during the 2007-08 school year alone, reports The (U.K.) Guardian. To read more click here.