The number of children dealing with physical disabilities in the United States has declined by about 12 percent over the past decade. However, throughout the same time frame, the number of children dealing with neurodevelopmental or mental health problems has increased by nearly 21 percent.
A new study that will be published in the September issue of Pediatrics confirmed the findings, showing that in 2011, close to 6 million children in the United States were living with a disability.
Lead study author Amy Hourtrow, MD, PhD, MPH, from the Departments of Physical Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, found that children living in poverty had the highest disability rates at 102.6 cases per 1,000 people. However, those living with household incomes at four times the federal poverty level also saw the largest increase, at 28.4 percent increased disability rate throughout the 10-year period, while children living in households less than the federal poverty level saw only a 10.7 percent rise in the rate of disability during those years.
Though researchers are not entirely certain what factors are responsible for the increase, according to Houtrow, less stigma surrounding mental health conditions and more parental awareness regarding their child's condition could have influenced responses that helped document the findings.
On a similar note, she also found that an increased awareness of autism has likely contributed to the increase.
"Decades ago, a child might have had substantial cognitive disabilities and abnormal behaviors that didn't get diagnosed as something specific, and now that we're understanding the neurobiology around autism, more children are being classified that way," she concluded, according to Medscape.
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