The rise was not due to physical health conditions, whose prevalence actually declined by 11.8% over the decade. Instead, disabilities attributable to neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions increased by 20.9%. Children at the lower end of the income scale had a higher prevalence of disability, but those at the highest end (≥400 percent of the federal poverty level) showed the greatest increase over the decade, a finding that surprised the investigators. This increase, they suggested, may be due to better access to care or greater willingness to seek services among upper-income families, among other possibilities.
Commenting on the findings of the study, child and adolescent psychiatrist David Fassler, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, said that the key finding "most likely represents multiple trends, including changes in diagnostic criteria and eligibility requirements for specialized services. Further research is needed to more fully understand the implications of the current findings on the development of programs and services designed to best meet the needs of children.”
To read more about childhood psychiatric disability, see the Psychiatric News articles, “Prevalence Rate of Autism Continues Steady Rise” and “Parents—and Others—Learn to Accept Very Different Children.”