Kids' Disability Rates Changing

Neurodevelopmental disorders among children and mental health problems increasing

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) More mental health and developmental disorders are being identified in children today with better diagnosis. This trend may partly explain the increase in rates of these disabilities.

A recent study found that the disability rates among children are moving in opposite directions.

The rates of physical disabilities have been decreasing among US families.

The rates of neurodevelopmental and mental health related disabilities have been increasing, especially in higher income families.

"Discuss disability concerns with your pediatrician."

The study, led by Amy Houtrow, MD, PhD, the chief of the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, looked at the disability rates among US families over a decade.

The researchers used the data from the 2001-02 and the 2009-10 National Health Interview Surveys. These surveys included a total of 102,468 participants, from newborns up to 17-year-olds.

The surveys included questions about activities the children could and couldn't do that were used to identify developmental or physical disabilities.

The researchers looked for three types of disabilities: physical (such as blindness or deafness), neurodevelopmental or mental health issues and then other disabilities.

Overall, the percentage of children with a disability increased 16.3 percent from 2001-02 to 2009-10.

In 2001-02, there were 92.7 children out of every 1,000 who were living with a disability among children living in poverty.

That number rose among children in poverty in 2009-10 to 101.4 children with a disability out of every 1,000 children.

Although children living at or below the poverty level had the highest overall rates of disability, the change over that decade was not a large jump.

There was a large spike in the percentage of children with a disability in families who were over 300 percent of the federal poverty level.

The number of kids with a disability increased 28 percent among families with incomes between 300 and 399 percent of the federal poverty level.

Among families with incomes at 400 percent or higher of the federal poverty level, the rate of children with disabilities increased 23.9 percent.

The biggest overall change was a big increase in neurodevelopmental and mental health disabilities among children under 6 years old. These rates doubled, from 18.7 cases per 1,000 to 35.6 per 1,000, from 2001 to 2010.

It's possible this increase includes many children with autism spectrum disorders because research has documented increases in these rates.

"The survey did not break out autism, but we suspect that some of the increase in neurodevelopmental disabilities is due to the rising incidence or recognition of autism spectrum disorders," Dr. Houtrow said in a prepared statement about the study.

The increase in rates, however, does not necessarily mean that more children are getting neurodevelopmental or mental health disorders today than in the past.

Instead, it's possible that more of these disorders are being recognized and diagnosed than they previously were.

Meanwhile, rates of disabilities from physical conditions declined over this period, but the researchers are not sure why.

This study findings are preliminary. It was presented at a conference and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The research was presented May 5 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Information regarding funding and disclosures were unavailable.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 2, 2013
Last Updated:
October 31, 2013