More Kids with Mental Health Disorders

Rita Price

Posted May 8, 2012

The most prevalent childhood disabilities have shifted away from the physical to mental-health disorders, researchers say.

A report released today by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution notes that the top five limiting conditions of children are now behavioral or developmental.

In 2009, more than one in five parents reporting a child with a disability cited ADHD -- attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder -- as an underlying condition, according to the report in The Future of Children.

Another 19 percent cited other mental, emotional or behavioral problems. Today, ADHD is nearly three times more likely than asthma to contribute to childhood disability, the report said.

Autism affects about 6 percent of all special-education students, up from 2 percent over the past decade.

But understanding the spiking rates is problematic because "disability" is not standardized, and criteria for diagnoses and services seem to vary widely, editors of the report said.

They said it is "difficult to resolve the controversy over how much of the increase in disability reflects changes in incidence or changes in definition and diagnosis."

According to the National Health Interview Surveys, the prevalence of disability for children younger than 18 more than doubled from 1981 to 2009, to 8 percent. But the National Survey of Child Health classifies just 4.3 percent of children as disabled.

The nation badly needs workable definitions that can be implemented in national surveys, the report said.

©2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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