Mental Disorders on Rise in Children

By Smeltz, Adam | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 18, 2014 | Go to article overview

Mental Disorders on Rise in Children


Smeltz, Adam, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The number of children with developmental conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder jumped by 28 percent for some families, a Pittsburgh-based national study shows.

The two-year project led by Dr. Amy Houtrow at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC found poor homes have the highest known rates of intellectual and physical disabilities in youths, while reports of pediatric mental health and neurodevelopmental issues are climbing faster in families that make at least four times the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would be $95,400 a year.

Houtrow said her discovery does not necessarily mean impairments are proliferating more rapidly for higher-income families. Instead, she said, it could reflect better awareness, detection and services for those with easier access to health care.

"We need to rise to the challenge to help children be as capable and functional as possible, so they can have the best lives possible," said Houtrow, chief of pediatric rehabilitation medicine at Children's. She said the findings can become a foundation for more research into root causes of developmental conditions and how to prevent them across socioeconomic groups.

Using federal data from the National Health Interview Survey, Houtrow and a cross-country team of colleagues found 54 of 1,000 children in wealthier households in 2011 had known disabilities related to mental health or neurodevelopmental concerns, including learning disabilities or language disorders. That was up 28.4 percent in 10 years.

Meanwhile, 83 of 1,000 children in poverty had such impairments in 2011, up from 72 per 1,000 in 2001. Doctors generally cite premature birth rates, inadequate access to health care and other struggles in explaining chronic health problems among the poor.

Plus, symptoms of neurodevelopmental conditions can be tough to spot. It took months before early suspicions led to a formal ADHD diagnosis for Elizabeth Strickland's eldest son about 12 years ago, Strickland said. …

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