Fifteen percent of American children have a developmental disability, including autism and ADHD, according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That's an increase of almost 2 percentage points from 1997 to 2008, or almost 2 million kids. But that number may be squishier than it sounds.
The new figure comes from the National Health Interview Surveys, which ask parents if their children have ever been diagnosed with a variety of behavioral and developmental problems. That can include assessments by teachers or counselors, so the number is less than airtight. The number also could reflect increasing awareness of autism, and decreasing stigma.
The results were published online by the journal Pediatrics.
The question of how many children have autism has become a huge political issue, used to argue for more funding for early intervention, special ed classes, and insurance coverage. The numbers have also been used in battles over possible causes of autism.
Various studies have put the number of American children with autism as between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240. (The CDC has a good explainer on the varied numbers in the U.S., and in other countries.)
"Because the prevalence of some of these developmental disabilities is increasing, there's going to be an increased demand on the health system for these kind of specialized medical services," Sheree Boulet, the study author and an epidemiologist at the Atlanta-based CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a May 20 telephone interview.
Today's study is the first to document the prevalence of developmental disabilities in U.S. children since 1994, Boulet said.