CHICAGO – Disabilities among U.S. children have increased slightly, with a bigger rise in mental and developmental problems in those from wealthier families, a 10-year analysis found.
The increases may partly reflect more awareness and recognition that conditions, including autism, require a specific diagnosis to receive special services, the researchers say.
Meantime, physical disabilities declined, as other studies have suggested.
The study is the first to look broadly at the 10-year trend, but the results echo previous studies showing increases in autism, attention problems and other developmental or mental disabilities.
The researchers studied parents’ responses about children from birth through age 17 gathered in 2000-2011 government-conducted health surveys. Nearly 200,000 children were involved.
Results were published online today in Pediatrics.
Overall, disabilities of any kind affected 8 percent of children by 2010-2011, compared with close to 7 percent a decade earlier. For children living in poverty, the rate was 10 percent at the end of the period, versus about 6 percent of kids from wealthy families.
The overall trend reflects a 16 percent increase, while disabilities in kids from wealthy families climbed more than 28 percent, the researchers found.
The trend was fueled by increases in attention problems, speech problems, and other mental or developmental disorders that likely include autism, although that condition isn’t identified in the analyzed data.
Declines in asthma-related problems and kids’ injuries accounted for much of the overall 12 percent drop in physical disabilities.
Better asthma control and treatment and more use of bike helmets, car seats and seat belts may have contributed to that trend, said lead author Dr. Amy Houtrow, a pediatric rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pittsburgh.