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Children's Health

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More Kids Diagnosed With Mental Health Disabilities

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


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.

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.

Houtrow agreed.

"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 acceptable.

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