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Children's Health

Childhood Mental Disability Rates Up, Study Finds

Largest increase reported among wealthier families
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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 unclassifiable conditions.

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 found.

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 ignoring it."

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