Uncertainty is a major theme of The Politics of Autism. How common is autism? Do rates vary around the world? Has prevalence changed over time. There are now efforts to address such questions.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mandate systematic monitoring of the health and wellbeing of all children to achieve optimal early childhood development. However, global epidemiological data on children with developmental disabilities are scarce. The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2016 provides a comprehensive assessment of prevalence and years lived with disability (YLDs) for development disabilities among children younger than 5 years in 195 countries and territories from 1990 to 2016. Methods We estimated prevalence and YLDs for epilepsy, intellectual disability, hearing loss, vision loss, autism spectrum disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. YLDs were estimated as the product of the prevalence estimate and the disability weight for each mutually exclusive disorder, corrected for comorbidity. We used DisMod-MR 2.1, a Bayesian meta-regression tool, on a pool of primary data derived from systematic reviews of the literature, health surveys, hospital and claims databases, cohort studies, and disease-specific registries.
Globally, 52·9 million (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 48·7–57·3; or 8·4% [7·7–9·1]) children younger than 5 years (54% males) had developmental disabilities in 2016 compared with 53·0 million (49·0–57·1; or 8·9% [8·2–9·5]) in 1990. About 95% of these children lived in low-income and middle-income countries. YLDs among these children increased from 3·8 million (95% UI 2·8–4·9) in 1990 to 3·9 million (2·9–5·2) in 2016. These disabilities accounted for 13·3% of the 29·3 million YLDs for all health conditions among children younger than 5 years in 2016. Vision loss was the most prevalent disability, followed by hearing loss, intellectual disability, and autism spectrum disorder. However, intellectual disability was the largest contributor to YLDs in both 1990 and 2016. Although the prevalence of developmental disabilities among children younger than 5 years decreased in all countries (except for North America) between 1990 and 2016, the number of children with developmental disabilities increased significantly in sub-Saharan Africa (71·3%) and in North Africa and the Middle East (7·6%). South Asia had the highest prevalence of children with developmental disabilities in 2016 and North America had the lowest.
The global burden of developmental disabilities has not significantly improved since 1990, suggesting inadequate global attention on the developmental potential of children who survived childhood as a result of child survival programmes, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. The SDGs provide a framework for policy and action to address the needs of children with or at risk of developmental disabilities, particularly in resource-poor countries