The percentage of children with disabilities due to neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions continues to rise, particularly among children in more socially advantaged households, according to a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC analysis that appears in the September issue of Pediatrics.
Results of the study, led by Amy Houtrow, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., chief, Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s Hospital, found that while there has been a decline in physical health-related disabilities by approximately 12 percent, there was a large, nearly 21 percent rise in disabilities classified as neurodevelopmental or mental health in nature.
The researchers studied data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2001 and 2011, evaluating each child’s ability to perform activities at home and school.
Although children living in poverty have the highest rates of disability, children living in families at or above 400 percent of the federal poverty level reported a 28.4 percent increase in disabilities over the past 10-year period.
Dr. Houtrow and the researchers offered four reasons that may explain the increased rates of disability related to neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions:
- shifts in diagnostic criteria
- overall increases in rates of certain problems including autism
- increased awareness of these conditions
- the need for a specific diagnosis to receive services such as early intervention
“This study demonstrates what a lot of pediatricians have been noticing for several years – that they are seeing more neurodevelopmental and mental health problems in their clinical practices,” said Dr. Houtrow, who also is an associate professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Pediatrics and vice chair in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “As we look toward the future, the pediatric health care workforce and system needs to adapt to assure the best possible health and functional outcomes for children with disabilities related to neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions.”