Research indicates that the prevalence of developmental disabilities among US children is on the rise. Recent studies tracking the growth of developmental disabilities among children are lacking, explains Benjamin Zablotsky, PhD. “Researchers know that measuring the prevalence of developmental disabilities in the population helps gauge the adequacy of services and interventions,” he adds. With the rise of diagnoses, Dr. Zablotsky led a team examining demographic and socioeconomic characteristics connected with developmental disabilities.

For a study published in Pediatrics, the researchers assessed the prevalence of 10 developmental disabilities in children aged 3 to 17 using the National Health Interview Survey:

• Autism spectrum disorder
• Blindness
• Cerebral palsy
• Moderate to profound hearing loss
• Learning disability
• Intellectual disability
• Seizures
• Stuttering or stammering
• Other developmental delays

Dr. Zablotsky and colleagues used the survey to track demographic and socioeconomic characteristic changes during 9 years (2009-2017). Data analyzed included parent-reported data from approximately 90,000 children.

Significant increases occurred between 2009 to 2011 and 2015 to 2017 in the overall prevalence of developmental disability (16.2%-17.8%). “Universal screening by 18-24 months and ongoing monitoring of a child’s development, as recommended by the AAP in 2007, likely accounts for some of the increases seen in prevalence,” Dr. Zablotsky notes. ADHD prevalence increased from 8.5% to 9.5%, intellectual disability from 0.9% to 1.2%, and autism spectrum disorder from 1.1% to 2.5%. However, there was a noticeable decrease in other developmental delays (4.7%-4.1%) during the same years.

“Given the overall growth we observed in the prevalence of developmental disabilities, additional research is warranted to better understand the characteristics of children with developmental disabilities, the complex risk factors associated with developmental disabilities, and the accessibility of services and interventions,” says Dr. Zablotsky. We will continue to monitor the prevalence of developmental disabilities in the National Health Interview Survey moving forward. This will require regularly re-evaluating our survey questions in order to improve the survey quality and to ensure that populations of interest are accurately captured.”