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Childhood mental health disabilities on the rise
August 18th, 2014
11:10 AM ET

Childhood mental health disabilities on the rise

Over the past half century, the prevalence of childhood disabilities in the United States has been on the rise, possibly due to an increased awareness about these issues. Now a study published in this week’s online issue of Pediatrics suggests the nature of those newly diagnosed disabilities is changing.

The report, “Changing Trends of Childhood Disability, 2001-2011" found the number of American children with disabilities rose 16% over a 10-year period. While there was a noted decline in physical problems, there was a large increase in disabilities classified as neurodevelopmental conditions or mental health issues, such as ADHD and autism.

“We found that that physical disability health conditions in children were down 12%, but the disabilities related to mental and neurodevelopmental health went up 21%,” said lead study author Dr. Amy Houtrow, chief of the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Researchers looked at data collected from the well-known National Health Interview Survey between 2001-2002 and 2010-2011. In the survey, parents were asked to fill out a questionnaire indicating if their children had any health disadvantages such as speech and language disabilities, ADHD, intellectual disabilities, and/or emotional and behavior problems.

They found, not surprisingly, that children from poorer families still had the highest rates of disabilities overall. But they also found that children living in more affluent homes reported the largest increase in disabilities: 28.4% over the study period.

“The disparities were interesting and not really expected," said Houtrow. “But the steepness in the rise (of disabilities in affluent children) makes me think there has to be different stresses, environmental experiences and or other risk factors in these families. All this needs to be studied.”

Houtrow said the changes could be due to a number of things. For instance, people in higher economic groups are often more comfortable dealing with children's disabilities, both mental and physical, she said, so they're more likely to seek help from their doctor. This could lead to more accurate reporting from that income bracket.

"Poorer families have other things to worry about first, including putting food on the table," Houtrow said. "Their children’s learning disabilities are of concern, but they need to deal with other things, like hunger, lack of good health care and other factors.”

This is certainly not the first study to see an upward trend in mental health disabilities in children in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in 2008 that saw a significant jump in ADHD and learning disabilities. And earlier this year, the CDC released another report saying 1 in 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder, a 30% increase from 1 in 88 two years ago.

Houtrow hopes the study’s findings will open up further investigation into why these trends are happening. The authors concluded that documenting these changes in childhood disabilities is a positive step in developing better prevention methods, and treatments and services for these children.

“I think it’s a call to action," said Houtrow. “It’s a call to action to the health care system and a call for additional research. And it’s a call to action to parents to be concerned about their child’s development. ... Healthy children grow up to be healthy adults. Knowing how to better treat our younger generation is important to this country’s future.”


soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. Farrok

    1/2 of all Mental disorders have there inception before 14 years of age. Any student that drops out of school should be referred to professional mental health professional for an evaluation and possible treatment.

    But it will never happen as mental health care is very expensive. America has unlimited money for War, death and politics and every other cause in the world. It’s way past time America concentrated on helping its own Citizens and stop ringing its hands about the rest of the world as America is not doing well, too much poverty, too much unemployment and too much sickness.

    America spends a billion dollars a week in the Middle East while the American Mentally Ill roam our streets barking at the moon. Enough is enough. Take care of America!

    August 18, 2014 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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      September 22, 2014 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
  2. kakilicli

    Unlike physical medical problems, mental health problems can be more open to interpretation as opposed to factual testing. Here, we have self-reporting by parents. Perhaps a reason for more reporting of mental illness is because you have parents happily diagnosing their kids based on what they read on-line. If their kids don't act according the way "experts say they should" the parents immediately assume a mental health issue. There's a wide variation in human height, weight, hair color, eye color, skin color all of which are considered within the range of normal. Similarly, shouldn't there be a wide variation in behavior that's considered normal? Are all these increased cases of reported "mental health problems" found only in the US? If so, that's a definite clue that this is based on cultural expectations and has nothing to do with real mental health issues (which, yes, do exist).

    August 18, 2014 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shawn

      Well stated! Narrow expectations for child behavior today leaves a culture, with media and over saturation of information at their fingertips, looking to explain away–via self-diagnosis–why they're child isn't within their parameter of normal.

      August 18, 2014 at 15:23 | Report abuse |
    • Joseph Gemin

      I echo Shawn's sentiments: well said, kakilicli! The American psychologist, Kenneth Gergen, has written extensively on the exponential spread of the self-diagnosing of mental conditions and it's relationship to the internet and to the work of therapeutic professionals (see, for example, Gergen's essay, "Therapeutic Professions and the Diffusion of Deficit").

      August 18, 2014 at 23:06 | Report abuse |
  3. Liss

    It is possible to increase in more affluent families, is that they are more educated, meaning they probably delayed having children until they were pushing 40. There are numerous studies showing that the womans eggs, and mens sperm age and can lead to chromosonal disorders, and other issues.

    August 18, 2014 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Al

      I think it is more likely that affluent families have better access to information and tend to diagnose their children based on their own findings from the internet. I think it is a pretty broad generalization to say that most afluent families delay having children until they are pushing 40. My husband and I are both college-educated and have good, steady jobs and we're pregnant with our first at 27.

      August 18, 2014 at 15:37 | Report abuse |
    • Mycenia

      I was thinking along a similar path, though my thought process leaned more towards fertility treatments. The use of fertility drugs, IVF, and other medical procedures has skyrocketed in recent years. You have to wonder what the long term effects of some many men and women, who would not naturally have conceived, having children will be. And it very dependent on wealth and insurance availability.

      August 27, 2014 at 10:41 | Report abuse |
  4. Liss

    *the

    August 18, 2014 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. billybob

    I think people are way more likely to false diagnose their own thesedays in hopes of getting a hand-out... this is a load of bull stuff.

    August 18, 2014 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jim

    This is either from all the poisonous fast food or doctors are lying to push out more pills for more $$.

    Both cases are a horrible crime against humanity that need to be stopped.

    August 18, 2014 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. hikesocal

    We are what we eat and drink.
    Pump us full of toxins, pump us full of medications and here's the result.
    I wonder how many kids in the hunter/gatherer tribes of the Amazon have ADHD and autism?

    August 18, 2014 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Lynn

    We live in a middle class neighborhood. My husband and I had our children when we were in our 20's. We were both healthy, active, fit, were on no meds, ate only organic foods (no packaged ever), etc. We had none of the so called "risk factors" except that we lived near a highway when they were conceived. Two of our children have autism. Our school only has 400 students. When our oldest entered this school 6 years ago, he was 1 of 2 students with autism. Today, the school still only has 400 students but 10 of those have autism. When he was young, we knew noone whose child had autism. Now we now a few. You would go to the mall and think your child was the only one, now you recognize 2 or 3 other kids as having autism every visit. It is definitely rising and society really needs to open their eyes on this matter. If it continues at the rate the CDC is reporting, that could mean 1 in 9 children by 2022. Thankfully, there are genes being discovered, but what do you do with those genes? It is a medical problem that really needs to be figured out before these kids become adults. In regards to disgnosis: people need to understand that it is not "parents diagnosing their own children". In order to be diagnosed there is a very strict criteria that is examined. Pages and pages of developmental reports need to be filled out not only by parents but also by doctors, pediatricians, speech and language therapists, teachers. etc. It takes days of observations and reporting by a psychologist to diagnose your child with autism. In fact, where we live, a parent either pays thousands of dollars to diagnosis this privately or their child is put on a publicly funded waitlist that is almost 2 years long. Somehow I do not think parents would be putting themselves through that stress unless there were very serious concerns about their child's development.

    August 18, 2014 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tonya

      I've looked into some private schools for kids with autism and the cost per year was more than what I paid for my college tuition. My son is on the spectrum as well and I agree with everything you said here. I had my son at 27 and my daughter (who's not autistic) at 30. Both pregnancies were normal and I did nothing different with my 2nd pregnancy than I did the 1st time. I pray that researchers find the cause and that it would lead to a cure really soon. Some comments on this post are so ignorant, autism is so much more than having fits or temper tantrums. My son didn't speak until he was 4 yrs old but we knew by the time he was 2 that he needed help with not only communication but sensory and cognitive skills that we "normal folks" take for granted. You're right, that ratio is changing every year and it's not for the better. My son was born in 2006 and I believe the ratio was 1 out of 110 children, now it's 1 out of 68.

      August 21, 2014 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
    • Bek

      Well said, Lynn. I'm always floored by the people who suggest that it is easy to get a diagnosis or appropriate care and supports for disorders and disabilities which are not readily apparent to a lay person. They should try walking a mile in our shoes, or at the least read some of the blogs by parents raising kids with such disorders, before they spread such nonsense. Thanks for speaking up!

      August 29, 2014 at 23:15 | Report abuse |
    • Jessica

      Have you tested your autistic kids for MTHFR through your doctor or a genetic service like 23andme? Over 90% of kids with autism have mthfr- it's a mutation that interferes with folic acid processing. Diet and the proper folate (not folic acid!) supplements can help them LOT! Look into it please- for their sake.

      September 3, 2014 at 23:39 | Report abuse |
  9. esmeralda

    As it is swept under the rug, income has a major impact on your childrens mental health. Poor communities dont have access to good parental programs that teach different approaches to mental health and are handed drugs that are not properly/long term tested. These drugs than effect the nervous system and/have an additional side effect the parent has to deal with. to schedule an appointment it takes a waiting period of 3 months or more, and depending on your insurance, they will suggest what "test" can be run to better conclude an evaluation. As a parent and patient; i was given depression pills at a young age; wasnt given the choice to seek therapy. As a parent my son is still waiting. I also was suffering from dizziness and the doctor didnt run test due to my limited insurance; how do i know this? I had to pass out to find out what was wrong with me to be taken to the ER..My sister who has better insurance than me was having little dizzy spells as well she was sent to a specialist, taken blood work, even saw ENT, blood work was low on iron. My friends daughter was on a waiting list of one-three weeks., same hospital. Someone has to test these drugs....guess who is subject A ( drug given) and subject B ( no drug )?

    August 18, 2014 at 16:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Nicole

    I have a young child who throws some pretty intense temper tantrums. When I was a kid in the 70's, the prevailing wisdom was she's a toddler, they throw tantrums. Today in my upper middle class community the wisdom is you should have her evaluated for ADHD or autism or any number of other disorders. Half the kids I know have IEPs in school. I don't think kids have really changed much in the past several decades, just our thinking on the matter and what we do as parents to deal with it. I also think many parents I know are hypersensitive about their children to the point of perceiving things as much more serious than they are.

    August 18, 2014 at 19:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. LymeGreenPANDAS

    None of this should come as surprising. Our children are compromised. Of course it's numerous things that can cause mental illness, but really look into Lyme Disease. Look into the gut. Children should absolutely not have mental illnesses. What can cause them? Actual infections. Doctors simply want to prescribe psych meds. It's shameful. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/mind-and-body-scientists-identify-immune-system-link-to-mental-illness

    August 18, 2014 at 20:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. James

    Interesting that there is no mention of the poison that is in the food. Pesticides have been in the food supply and lo and behold illnesses have been increasing.

    August 18, 2014 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jessica

      Pesticides. GMOs. Neurotoxins in our medications. Neurotoxins in our vaccinations. Fast food. Processed foods almost daily, if not daily. Most not meeting the 5-9 servings of fruits/vegetables a day.

      It all adds up people. Autism increasing. Alzheimer's increasing. Cancer increasing. I lost 2 friends this month alone to cancer. It's time to take back our health. Don't support pharmaceutical companies. Don't support Monsanto. Support your local farmer's market. Exercise. Eat right.

      September 3, 2014 at 23:45 | Report abuse |
  13. Liss

    agreed James.

    August 19, 2014 at 01:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. KieranH

    Child Mental Disabilities up 21%.

    Parental Mental Stability Down 100%. Parents can't deal with "bullying" (that has been around since time began), with their own prescription drug issues (Xanax?)....etc.

    Raise a demon, live with demons.

    August 19, 2014 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. d m

    Obviously the writer is not educated to know the difference between Mental and Nuerological since he included Autism as a mental disorder which it is not but it is a Nuerological disorder, therefore, I don't believe the writer of this article is credible.

    August 19, 2014 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. mrsmontanez

    Reblogged this on Bipolar Mom, Authoress.

    August 19, 2014 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. portlandtony

    Today, It appears to me that if youngsters don't fit the "normal" behavior criteria at a certain age, they are immediately diagnosed as having a ADHD or Bi-polar disorder.
    In other words, if any child behaves differently or stands out in any way from the rest of the pack, there is something wrong with them and then usually medicated to return them to "normalcy". This is so wrong, and just "another brick in the wall". Unless there is overriding evidence that a child defines the "Special needs" criteria, our differences should be seen as human characteristics, not defects!

    August 19, 2014 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Rachel Griffith

    Interesting article on childhood mental heath disabilities. You may find some interesting articles here: http://www.kidschoicedental.com/blog-98th-st-albuquerque-nm-87121

    August 21, 2014 at 03:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. jeremy

    Must be in the water because I'm nuts too! I'm 32 and have to swallow 3 psych meds every night. Risperidone being one of them.

    August 21, 2014 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Rebecca

    It just feels like everyone is being diagnosed with something and that the autism spectrum is so broad. My husband and I are eccentric people with some social issues and had the spectrum been so broad when we were kids I bet we would both be on it.

    I think we just need to relax and let children be children.

    August 22, 2014 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Timmy Suckle "The Medical Cartel Puppet"

    I kissed my way up to CEO at a health insurance company. Now I take over $1,000,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other CEOs, VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easily fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $117,000 level. Now I only pay 1.17% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses. Thank you little people.

    August 22, 2014 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SS

    Recently the name of a CDC whistle blower was made public. he is a PhD and along with other PhDs colluded to withhold information on the MMR vaccine causing a large (320%) increase in autism in the black male child recipients. It is stated that blacks reacted at twice the rate of others so we can guess that other races are affected at about a 160% increase in autism. This cover up occurred 13 years ago. Since that time one of the other PhDs involved with the study actually sat before a congressional hearing and lied about the evidence. The whistle blower feels guilty, but that is much less important at this point in time than getting the information out. he knows his professional career is over, at the very least. He just wants to get this information out. We need this information in order to stop the damage. He is threatening a very profitable business line. His information tells us that we cannot trust the CDC and the individuals who purport to work to keep us safe. See what Jon Rappoport has to say. This whistle blower's reputation is at risk, his life is at risk. That is how it works when one threatens big business and big bureaucracies. He was escorted off the campus of the CDC 2 days ago. So they now know who he is. It is important that we get this information and in order to do that William Thompson's name needs to be known, and he needs to be kept safe. There is a video available:http: //vimeo.com/user5503203/review/103711143/91f7d3d4d8

    August 23, 2014 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. patriciaange

    Reblogged this on Sex and Relationships.

    August 25, 2014 at 04:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. chris

    This unfortunate news only makes since when you think about all the toxic chemicals that we come into contact with. Our children are introduced to their first toxin with in 6 hrs of life. (aka hep b vaccine) Then every few months until they are 18 yrs old they are continually exposed to their 75 doses of recommended vaccines. This system doesn't seem to be working so well for the USA health system. Just go back and read this article again if you don't believe me. Good Luck!!

    August 26, 2014 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Efata

    This is all about corruption. The ingredients of these vaccines alone lets you know the corruption extends from the manufacturers all the way to the approving government agencies. What do poor people and rich people have in common with regards to the autism epidemic? the same vaccines! Many of them contain neurotoxins, mercury, formaldehyde, animal and human viruses...what do those ingredients have to do with the human body? Most cases of ADHD, eczema, allergies, autism have to do with vaccines. Who paid to make sure a law is passed so we cannot bring the kids to school unless they are vaccinated? We are being treated like animals. This is why they use the term "Herd Immunity"

    August 27, 2014 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. adoc

    This story is literally on the same CNN web page as a story about a CDC scientist admitting in writing that a previously discovered significant link between autism and vaccines was deliberately deleted from a major scientific study. 20-50 years from now people will wonder how we couldnt see what was so obviously right in front of us under our noses.

    August 28, 2014 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Amy

    The rise is attributed to the looser and more encompassing classifications of many mental illnesses – especially ADHD and on the Autism spectrum. The way they classify them now is different and has a much wider range (spectrum) than before. It also allows for identification at younger ages than before. That is why there is an increase int he numbers.

    August 29, 2014 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Raj

    "Which part of our body is not explored much by us Humans?" or let me put it this way "Which part of our body is our medical system is Clueless about?" It is our Brain. I have a Child with CP and she is 7. We have struggled to find out why this has happened? "It can be this or that or both or we may not know". This is the answer we get from the system.

    But the doctors have been kind, they have prescribed therapies when we ask them "OK now what can we do to make her life better". But unfortunately early intervention is funded mostly by Government as it will not suit the private health insurance providers' business model to make profits. Because it requires comprehensive and more importantly more frequent early intervention. With the economy on the downward spiral, expenditure on war on terrorism, etc Governments have been struggling to provide the necessary funding to provide the "REQUIRED" amount of therapy. The policies vary from county to county, school districts to school districts. Parents spend enormous energy/resources to findout which therapies work which county to settle down (sometines they cant afford as the COL is very high), etc.

    The early intervention and special needs care requires a total rewamp to standardize evaluation, Theraphy protocols to ensure "REQUIRED" theraphy is provided, and more importantly more fnds are pumped into research.

    August 29, 2014 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Patty

    Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines!!!!!

    September 3, 2014 at 20:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jessica

    Neuro problems are increasing among our children. The number of vaccinations we are giving our children is also increasing. Wake up people and smell the correlation.

    September 3, 2014 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Evan

    What is your opinon/postion/suggested resolution? How do you feel / think after reading this article? Explain your reasoning

    September 16, 2014 at 16:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Chrissy

    Exactly @ James...along with all the preservatives in processed foods! And a HUGE OMG YES @ Patty! My son who will be 35 next month is severely mentally impaired from....yep you guessed it....a vacine! 27 hours after recieving his first DPT shot he began to have seizures!!! They started out to be pet i t mal and increased to 30 to 40 a day! This continued for 9 days when he had his first grand mal seizure. It took his doctors years to figure out the right combo of medication to minimalize his seizures. By then the damage was done.

    September 20, 2014 at 21:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Chrissy

    I should add i have 2 children older than him that had all the childhood vacines with no problems, so there were no indicators prior to him!

    September 20, 2014 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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  35. laura.m

    Hi. my name is laura myers.I live in wv,and I will pray for all the kids that have ADHD.

    October 15, 2014 at 20:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Joan

    There is a huge over-diagnosis in this country, not under diagnosis. The Unites States makes up 5% of the population of the world but takes 80% of these head meds. If the drug companies had their way, we would all be medicated. There's a disorder now for every mood variant. And what are doing to our children by drugging them to death is appalling. Women on these drugs during pregnancy, also causes children at birth to have problems. We need to cool our jets with all these drugs and let kids be kids.

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