The proportion of children and teens in the U.S. who have a developmental disability such as autism has increased 17% since the late 1990s, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1997 and 2008, the number of children with a disability rose from 8.2 million to roughly 10 million, or more than 15% of all kids between the ages of 3 and 17, the researchers found.
This upward trend has been driven largely by surges in the number of children found to have autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, although the prevalence of stuttering and learning disabilities has also increased.
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The study, which appears in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics, is the first time nationally representative data on developmental disabilities has been collected since 1988, says Sheree Boulet, Dr.P.H., one of the study's authors and an epidemiologist at the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
The reasons for the increases aren't clear, but growing awareness and increasing acceptance of developmental disabilities have probably played a big role, Boulet says. For instance, she explains, the availability of early and effective treatments for conditions such as ADHD might be encouraging more parents to have their children screened for the disorder.
The study findings are to be expected, given the "increased awareness and much better reporting," says Alan Hilfer, Ph.D., the director of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center, in New York City.
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