The Center for Disease Control says yes!
In a study published online in the May 23 issue of Pediatrics,researchers found that one in six U.S. children now has a developmental disability such as autism, learning disorders or ADHD.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers also found that the number of children with mental disorders or developmental disabilites seems to be on the rise. In 1997-1999, about 12.8 percent of kids were diagnosed with a developmental disability. In just ten years, that number increased to 15 percent. While 2.2 percent doesn’t seem like a big leap, it accounts for an additional 1.8 million U.S. children or a total of 10 million US school children.
“The most important message here is raising awareness of the importance of this as a health problem and one we need to address,” said lead study author Coleen Boyle, director of the U.S. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “Children are our future, and many of these children can grow up to be very productive citizens, so we need to invest in programs to help facilitate their development.”
To form their conclusions, researchers analyzed data from the 1997-2008 National Health Interview Surveys. This annual survey of US households asked parents of children aged 3 to 17 if their children had been diagnosed with ADHD, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, autism, seizures, stuttering or stammering, moderate to profound hearing loss, blindness, learning disorders and/or other developmental delays.
According to Boyle, much of the increase can be attributed to ADHD and autism diagnoses. The figures are compelling to make that case: About 7.6 percent of children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2006-2008, up from 5.7 percent in 1997-1999. About 0.74 percent of kids had received in autism diagnosis in 2006-2008, up from 0.19 percent in 1997-1999.
Many questions arise from research like this. Is greater awareness driving diagnoses? Is there a greater number in the population that has developed ADHD? Is the fact that pharmaceutical companies can market their medications on TV a factor(the rates are higher in the US where it is only one of two countries in the world that allows prescription drugs to be marketed to the consumer)? Are biological or genetic factors involved? Are parenting factors involved?
In light of these questions, curiously, children with public insurance, mainly Medicaid, were more likely to have disabilities than those on private insurance plans. Medicaid supported children are lower income and commonly minority children. Does this mean they have greater rates of developmental disorders or is something else happening when diagnosing these children compared to children from better socioeconomic means?
In light of those questions, it’s interesting to note that although rates of ADHD and autism were up, other developmental conditions remained basically steady or in decline.
Awareness is up, especially by teachers who are usually the first to spot developmental or intellectual problems. Where does this awareness come from? Typically from TV advertisements or an afternoon workshop. While they are not experts in diagnosis or treatment, they often tend to spot trends. Thus, it is essential to have a full diagnostic battery performed by an expert. While this may be costly and time consuming, it is essential that the problem be identified correctly. It may very likely be that we are overdiagnosing or diagnosing socioeconomic problems that won’t be resolved via medication.