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Parents Report More Cases of Disability in Children

Update Date: Aug 18, 2014 09:30 AM EDT

According to a new study, more parents are reporting some kind of disability in their children. The team discovered that the disability rate, which includes mental health and physical conditions, increased the most for high-income parents but was still the highest in low-income families.

For this study, the researchers examined the information collected by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from 2001 to 2011. The survey included data on around 200,000 children and asked parents about any mental health disability or physical deformity in their children. Overall, the rate of disabilities for non-institutionalized children aged 17 and younger increased by 16 percent with about six million children, or eight percent of the population, categorized as disabled.

When the researchers separated the types of disability into two categories, they found that disability caused by a physical condition fell by 12 percent whereas disability due to a neurodevelopmental or mental-health disorder increased by 21 percent. Physical disabilities included asthma, hearing impairments and bone or joint conditions. Mental health disabilities included attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and emotional problems. The researchers noted that autism was not included as a mental health disability because the NHIS was created before autism was widely recognized.

"But we know from other research that the number of kids with a diagnosis of autism is increasing. We think we are capturing (them) in categories for 'other developmental problems' or 'other mental, emotional and behavior problems,' or 'intellectual disabilities,'" the authors wrote.

The report also found that even though the disability rate was still higher in people with lower incomes, the rate reported by parents with higher incomes increased the most. Parents who had an income that was 400 percent higher than the federal poverty level reported 28 percent more cases by the end of 2011. The incidence rates for children in low-income and in high-income households with a disability were 102.6 cases and 62.9 cases per 1,000 respectively.

"Children living in less economically advantaged situations are across the board more likely to have disabilities. That's something we've known about health disparities for decades, and that's still true here," stated lead author, Amy Houtrow, chief of the division of pediatric rehabilitation medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reported by USA Today.

Steven Pastyrnak, chief of pediatric psychology at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI, who was not a part of the study, added, "For higher socioeconomic-status families, there's a growing acceptance to seek out help for their child, both at school and at an outpatient setting...That's why I think you see that increase so significantly."

The study, "Changing Trends of Childhood Disability, 2001-2011," was published in Pediatrics.

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