Childhood Disability Rate Has Increased

A review of childhood disability trends has revealed rates among children have increased by 16 percent in the last decade. Physical conditions have been on the decline, while neurodevelopmental disorders have spiked considerably based on the evaluated information from 2001 to 2010.

Lead author, Dr. Amy J. Houtrow – an associate professor of physical medicine, rehabilitation, and pediatrics at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine – and her colleagues wanted to probe further into the conditions and socio-demographic factors associated with disabilities.

Data was analyzed from the National Health Interview Survey, which is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Surveys from 2001 to 2002 and 2009 to 2010 were used.

A total of 102,468 parents of children 0 to 17 years of age participated in the surveys. They were asked if the children had physical limitations, needed special education services, and or assistance with personal care.

If yes, parents were then asked whether the limitations were due to vision/hearing problems, respiratory conditions, ambulatory issues with joints, bones, or muscle control, injury, emotional/behavioral problem, ADHD, mental retardation/intellectual deficit, a learning disability, epilepsy, birth defect, or other developmental disorder.

The conditions were subcategorized into three basic groups: physical, neurodevelopmental/mental health, and other.

Neurodevelopmental/mental health-related disabilities increased 16.3 percent – most notably doubling among children under the age of 6 – while physical conditions decreased. Dr. Houtrow specifically noted, “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.”

Interestingly, the greatest rate of increase was seen among kids from higher-income households – those at or above 300 percent of the national/federal poverty level (FPL). Children living in poverty experienced the highest number of disability, but not the highest rate of growth in comparison.

Thus, researchers were able to conclude disability in childhood is on the rise, and is occurring in both advantaged and disadvantaged families.

The study findings were presented in Washington, D.C., during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting. The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS annual meeting. They are the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the academic and clinical research.

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