New Study Shows More Children have Developmental Disabilities than a Decade Ago – Why?

 September 11, 2014
Posted by M&LAdmin4

September 11th, 2014

Every day, M&L staff comb through Internet news sites, press releases, media alerts and government websites to look for articles to share with our readers, clients, friends, and family. Those of you who subscribe to our social media feeds will have noticed that we make a point to post at least one article a day – we do this as a part of our commitment to ensuring that you all have access to the most current information. We also do this because we genuinely love being a part of the special needs community. We feel that by reading and sharing any interesting news that is relevant to individuals with disabilities, we are learning more about our field and doing our part to stay connected to what is relevant to individuals with special needs. (If you would like to subscribe to our social media feeds to see these daily posts, please click here to like us on Facebook, here to follow us on Twitter, or here for LinkedIn. You can also subscribe to our newsletter by filling out the form on our homepage.)

A few weeks ago, we posted a link to an article titled, ““Developmental Disorders More Common than a Decade Ago.” The article, (which was published on one of our favorite websites, focused on a study that discovered that the number of children with developmental disabilities has risen in the last decade. The same study also found that the number of children with physical disabilities has decreased. These surprising results got us thinking: why are developmental disabilities on the rise? Is it connected to physical disabilities declining, or are the two unrelated phenomenon that are simply being reported together? Is this increase linked to the fact that having a disability carries fewer stigmas in today’s world, therefore parents are more likely to try to get help, or is it something else?

We felt (and still feel) that the answers to these questions are important. We decided to devote today’s blog to trying to find these answers, and to taking a deeper, more critical look at the findings of this report. Please join us!

What is this study? Background Info

The article that incited our interest was written about a study that was published Monday, August 18th, titled “Changing Trends of Childhood Disability, 2001-2011.” Published in Pediatrics, the online, official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the study was intended to examine the prevalence of children with disabilities in the United States. According to the abstract, “Over the past half century the prevalence of childhood disability increased dramatically, coupled with notable increases in the prevalence of mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions. This study provides a detailed assessment of recent trends in childhood disability in relation to health conditions and sociodemographic factors.”

The results of the study were found by a secondary analysis of data collected in the U.S. National Survey Health Interview (NHIS) – a poll of more than 100,000 parents of children up to age 17. The data was collected over four time periods: 2001-2002, 2004-2005, 2007-2008 and 2010-2011, and was examined to “calculate the prevalence, rate of change, severity, and sociodemographic disparities of parent-reported childhood disability.”

In the original NHIS survey, parents were first asked to indicate whether or not their child had a “limitation or disability.” If the answer to this question was yes, parents were then directed to a list of limiting physical, developmental or mental disabilities and asked to choose which affected their child. Among the physical disabilities were conditions such as asthma/breathing issues, disabilities related to vision, and hearing, bone/joint/muscle issues/disabilities. The other two categories – developmental and/or mental disabilities – included disabilities and disorders such as epilepsy, seizures, speech problems, learning disabilities, ADHD, etc.

The Results: What Does It All Mean?

As the title of this blog posts suggests, the most important piece of information to come out of this study is that over the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of children reported as having developmental disabilities. Overall, the numbers of children reported by their parents as having a disability increased by 16%. Six million children (roughly 8%) were found to have a disability in 2009-2010, a one million increase than was found in a previous sampling.

While children living in poverty are still more likely to have a disability, the largest increase in reported disabilities came from children from wealthy families. This demographic (families earning $89,400 or more per year in 2011) saw an increase of 28%. At the same time, the number of reported physical disabilities is on the decline – the number of reported cases dropped by almost 12%.

So, do these results mean? Are more children being born with developmental disabilities, and less with physical disabilities? Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t clear-cut; even the study’s researchers can’t offer any solid reasons for the increase. According to lead researcher Amy Hourtrow (University of Pittsburg), the drop in physical disabilities could be attributed to better control of disorders such as asthma, and increased attention paid to safety practices such as using seat belts and wearing bike helmets.

Hourtrow says that there may be a number of factors at play causing the increase in developmental disabilities, citing changes in diagnostic criteria and/or increased awareness of disabilities as possibilities. The growing need for a concrete diagnosis to access early intervention services was also identified as a possible factor for the increase, and it was pointed out that the marked increase of disabilities reported in wealthy families may be the result of the better access to medical care in this demographic. The research team also speculates that the higher rates of autism (see our blog post on the latest CDC study on autism) and other conditions may contribute to the increase in numbers.

Although the reasons behind this increase can’t be identified with 100% certainty, the results of the study reflect what medical professionals and pediatricians are seeing in their clinics. In a quote taken from the article in, Houtrow says:

“This study demonstrates what a lot of pediatricians have been noticing for several years — that they are seeing more neurodevelopmental and mental health problems in their clinical practices… As we look toward the future, the pediatric health care workforce and system needs to adapt to assure the best possible health and functional outcomes for children with disabilities related to neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions.”

How will this affect my family with special needs?

The first question that you may ask yourself as you read this post is, “how does this affect my family with special needs?” To M&L staff, financial planning experts, the answer is obvious – and you may not like it. There are currently very few resources for individuals with special needs in the United States. It is no secret in the special needs community that government benefit programs, financial and otherwise, are incredibly overburdened. Take the special needs housing crisis, and current shortage of special needs professionals, as examples. Now, if special needs benefit programs and resources are already strained, how will they hold up as the population of individuals who rely on them increases? There will be less to go around, and the process by which people access these benefits and programs will become increasingly competitive.  A competitive application process means that some children/individuals will miss out on benefits – your child may be one of these individuals.

The good news is that we, as special needs professionals and parents, are aware of this possibility and can prepare for it. By planning for the future and taking certain financial steps now, you are ensuring that your child with special needs won’t need to worry about his/her finances when he/she reaches adulthood – and neither will you. M&L staff offers a number of services aimed at helping you secure financial security for your family members – our Comprehensive Special Needs Financial Life Plan helps you plan effectively for two generations, meeting financial goals for there here and now (i.e. college, retirement, etc.) as well as ensuring that your child with a disability will be provided for when you are gone. You may also wish to take advantage of our Insurance Needs Analysis service, which helps you to evaluate the amount of insurance you need to ensure your family is taken care of once you are gone, and to help fund the Special Needs Trust for your child with a disability. To see all of the services that we offer, please click here. You may also wish to check out our workshop series, which contains a number of presentations on important special needs planning topics.

As always, if you have any questions about anything in this blog post, or how to secure financially stable and happy futures for your children with special needs please do not hesitate to contact us! We are happy to help, and love hearing from you.

Thanks for dropping by! We hope to see you next week.


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