The Number of Mentally Disabled Children Has Skyrocketed In One Decade
The number of children classed as neurodevelopmentally disabled has increased 16 percent in a decade. Experts also found that the greatest increase is among youngsters from higher-income families. One of the possible reasons cited for the trend is the rise in the number of cases of autism diagnosed and reported.
Lead author Doctor Amy Houtrow, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and paediatrics at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine said: 'Nearly six million kids had a disability in 2010 - almost one million more than in 2001.'
Dr. Houtrow said previous studies have indicated that the prevalence of childhood disability is increasing.
She and her colleagues wanted to look more closely at the conditions and sociodemographic factors associated with disabilities.
They analysed data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 2001-2002 and survey data from 2009-2010.
A total of 102,468 parents of children aged up to 17 participated in the surveys.
Parents were asked whether their child had any limitations in play or activity, received special education services, needed help with personal care, had difficulty walking without equipment, had difficulty with memory or had any other limitation.
If they answered 'yes' to any of those questions, they were asked whether their child's limitations were due to a vision or hearing problem; asthma or breathing problem; joint, bone or muscle problem; intellectual deficit or mental retardation; emotional or behaviour problems; epilepsy; learning disability; speech problems; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; birth defect; injury or other developmental problem.
Researchers classified conditions into three groups: physical, neurodevelopmental/mental health and other.
Results showed that the prevalence of disability increased 16.3 per cent from 2002 to 2010.
While neurodevelopmental and mental health-related disabilities increased, those due to physical conditions decreased.
The trend was most notable among children under six years of age whose rate of neurodevelopmental disabilities nearly doubled over the study period from 19 cases to 36 cases per 1,000 children.
Dr. Houtrow said: '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.'
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) argued that the world faces a critical problem with the growing number of people with mental and neurological problems, including autism, which accounts for 11% of global disease. The number is projected to reach approximately 15% by 2020. In 2009, the WHO estimated that there are 1,100,000 cases of autism in China; 650,000 in the UK; 500,000 in the Philippines; and 180,000 in Thailand. The rate of autism is growing at 14% per year around the world. In China it is growing at a rate of 20% a year.
However, the United States has a disproportionately high incidence of ASD with 1 in every 88 children identified and 1 in 54 boys. More than 24,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism for the first time every year. It is officially the fastest growing disability in America.
Although vaccines are certainly a contributor to ASD, they have not been identified as the sole cause. Environmental factors that could trigger predisposed genes to mutate and cause autism are vast and could include certain drugs, chemicals, heavy metal exposure, antibiotics, flame retardants, or toxins introduced during key developmental phases in the womb.
The figures also showed that children living in poverty experienced the highest rates of disability at both time periods, but not the highest growth.
Dr Houtrow added: 'We are worried that those living in poverty may be having problems with being diagnosed and getting services.'
She called for more research to pinpoint why the disability rate is increasing.
The finding were presented at the Paediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington DC.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.