SUNDAY, May 5 (HealthDay News) -- Significantly more U.S.
children have a neurodevelopmental or mental health disability than
did a decade ago, according to new research.
Disabilities that impair a child's day-to-day living have risen
16 percent, with the greatest increase seen in richer families,
according to the study. Conditions such as autism or
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder appear to lie behind the
increase, experts said.
But the surveys of parents in 2001-'02 and 2009-'10 also
revealed some good news: The rate of disability due to physical
conditions went down, according to the study, which is scheduled
for presentation Sunday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual
meeting in Washington D.C. Data and conclusions presented at
meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a
peer-reviewed medical journal.
"This may mean there are differences in people getting early access to care," said study lead author Dr. Amy Houtrow, vice chairwoman of pediatric rehabilitation medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. For example, medications for children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a potentially debilitating inflammatory arthritis, have improved significantly in recent years, she said.
"For some conditions, it may be that medical care has improved so much that children may have a diagnosis but not a disability," she said, adding that this particular example is from what she has seen in her practice, not from the study data.
For the study, Houtrow and colleagues reviewed data from two
National Health Interview Surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They included more than
102,000 parents of children from infancy through 17 years of
Parents were asked if their children had any limitations in play
or activity, received special education services, needed help with
personal care, had difficulty walking without supports, had trouble
with memory or had any other limitation.
"It's not enough to just have something like ADHD," she said. "You have to be limited somehow by that diagnosis."
The researchers found that nearly 6 million children were
considered disabled at the end of the study. Children living in
poverty had the highest rates of disability, although poor children
didn't experience the largest increases in the incidence of
disability during the study period.
Families with incomes 300 percent above the federal poverty
level -- around $66,000 for a family of four -- had a 28 percent
increase in children with disabilities. Families whose income
levels exceeded the poverty level by 400 percent -- about $88,000
-- saw a 24 percent increase in the number of children with
Houtrow said it wasn't clear exactly why this was the case, and
the researchers suspect increases in neurodevelopmental disorders
may be behind the rise.
In children under 6 years old, the trend was most evident, with
almost double the rate of neurodevelopmental disorders -- 36 cases
per 1,000 children up from 19 a decade earlier.
The increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is likely
one of the explanations, said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of
developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra
Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park.
Autism spectrum disorders involve impaired communication, social
interactions and repetitive behaviors, and can range from mild, as
in Asperger's syndrome, to full-blown autism. The CDC estimates
that one in 88 children now has a form of autism.
"Even though the study found some differences in disability rates for different socioeconomic status, I would urge any parent who has a concern about their children to discuss it with their child's pediatrician," Adesman said.
"The condition your child has matters, and how they function in their regular life matters," she said. "If they're having trouble doing things that other children do, reach out to health professionals or to community resources to optimize your child's life. We can help children adapt or get accommodations for them."
Houtrow said the overall rise in neurodevelopmental disorders
suggests that there may be changes in what is considered socially
Learn more about children's disabilities from the
National Dissemination Center for Childre...ith
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