MONDAY, Aug. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Rates of developmental
and mental disabilities -- ranging from speech problems to
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder -- have jumped 21 percent
among U.S. children, according to a new report.
Overall, parent-reported disabilities rose 16 percent -- from
almost 5 million children to about 6 million between 2001 and 2011,
said study author Dr. Amy Houtrow, associate professor of physical
medicine and rehabilitation and pediatrics at the University of
"We know that disabilities have been on the rise for decades," Houtrow said. Understanding the trends helps practitioners know where and how to better direct services, the study noted.
Children from poor families are more likely to have a disability
than richer kids, but the surge in neurodevelopmental and mental
troubles was most notable among wealthier families, the researchers
Although the study didn't look at why this is so, Houtrow said
there is less stigma about getting help for a disability than in
the past. She also speculated that wealthier families have better
access to care.
A Florida pediatric neurologist agreed. Dr. Sayed Naqvi, of
Miami Children's Hospital, said he's observed a surge in requested
services for autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) and speech delay. Many of those families have easy access to
pediatric information on the Internet and a growing awareness that
their kids can be helped, he said.
"The more affluent parents come prepared, they know what services are there," Naqvi said. "We spend a lot more time nowadays discussing [treatments]."
For the study, published online Aug. 18 in
Pediatrics, Houtrow analyzed data from the U.S. National
Health Interview Surveys taken in four time periods between 2001
Parents first reported if their child had a limitation or
disability. Next, they chose from a list of limiting physical,
developmental or mental health conditions.
Physical conditions included: asthma or breathing problems,
vision problems, hearing problems, bone/joint/muscle problems,
Mental/neurodevelopmental conditions included: epilepsy or
seizures, speech problems, learning disability, ADHD, mental
retardation, other mental/emotional/behavioral problems, and other
Autism spectrum disorders, now thought to affect one in 68 U.S.
children, was not one of the specific developmental disorders that
parents could report. "Autism probably would have been listed by
the parent as either 'other developmental problem,' 'other mental,
emotional or behavioral problem' or 'intellectual disability' (also
referred to as mental retardation)," Houtrow said.
Birth defects or other impairment problems were considered
Physical disability cases declined almost 12 percent over the
decade, the study authors noted.
Significant increases were reported in "other mental, emotional
or behavioral problems," which rose 65 percent, and speech problems
and mental retardation, each up 63 percent, Houtrow said.
While ADHD increased 22 percent, according to parent reports,
learning disabilities dropped 13 percent, the investigators
Reports of asthma fell 24 percent, and hearing problems
increased 16 percent, the findings showed.
Families earning $89,400 or more in 2011 had the greatest
increase in reported disabilities -- nearly 29 percent, the study
found. Households earning below the poverty level had a rise of
about 11 percent.
Is it healthy or not to label kids as disabled? The study didn't
address that, but Houtrow said that "a disability is a normal part
of life. We should work to maximize a child's ability."
While there is still some stigma linked with disability, she
said, the focus needs to be on understanding a child's limitation
and making plans to overcome it.
"The disability doesn't just describe the limitation," she said. "It affects the [child's] interaction with the world."
Acknowledging it and making a plan, she said, "is better than
For more on childhood disabilities, visit the
American Academy of Pediatrics.
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