Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Children's Health

Font Size

More Kids Diagnosed With Mental Health Disabilities

Conditions such as autism, ADHD appear to drive 16 percent increase in a decade

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

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 age.

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 disabilities.

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.

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
 
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.
 

worried kid
fitArticle
boy on father's shoulder
Article
 
Child with red rash on cheeks
Slideshow
girl thinking
Article
 

babyapp
New
Child with adhd
Slideshow
 
rl with friends
fitSlideshow
Syringes and graph illustration
Tool