Nearly 1 in 10 US kids diagnosed with developmental disability: CDC

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The number of American children that have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities has increased, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The agency unveiled new findings Thursday showing that nearly one in 10 children in the US were diagnosed with a developmental disability in 2021, an increase from previous years.

Specifically, the prevalence in children aged 3 to 17 grew from 7.4% in 2019 to 8.6% in 2021, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey, which monitors the nation’s health through household questionnaires.

Survey findings were broken down into four categories: any developmental disability, intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder and other developmental delay.

While the percentage of children diagnosed with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder remained relatively stagnant, the agency saw an uptick in “other developmental delays” from 5.1% in 2018 to 6.1% in 2021.

Child learning alphabet
The agency found that incidences of developmental disorders were higher in boys than girls.
Stephen Yang

“A lot of times developmental delays might be temporary diagnoses that evolve into something like autism, potentially, or intellectual disability. But also a lot of times children do age out of those,” Benjamin Zablotsky, a statistician for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and the report’s lead author, told CBS News.

According to the report, the prevalence of developmental delays decreased as children aged, while the diagnosis of intellectual disabilities increased.

Additionally, boys were more likely than girls to be diagnosed with any developmental disability — 10.8% compared to 5.3% — and specifically were an estimated three times more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder.

Student typing on keyboard
Past studies have shown that cases of autism spectrum disorder have been climbing.
Stephen Yang

When broken down by race, Asian children were the least likely to be diagnosed with any developmental disability (4.9%), compared to Hispanic children (7.4%), black children (9.1%) and white children (8.4%).

“We’re interested in understanding the prevalence of these conditions in the population so that we can make sure we have adequate services available for families and children who need them,” Zablotsky said.

The CDC report follows the news of soaring autism spectrum disorder rates in the NYC metro area, according to findings released earlier this year.

Researchers from Rutgers claimed that rates tripled over the course of 16 years, from 1% in 2000 to 3% in 2016.

Autism spectrum disorder, also known as ASD, affects people socially, behaviorally and verbally. While it is typically diagnosed in young children, some people do not receive an accurate diagnosis until they’re much older due to how difficult the disorder is to identify.

But the rising rates of overall developmental disability diagnosis might not necessarily be as daunting as it seems, according to Maureen Durkin, the Population Health Sciences chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She suspects there has been a historic “under-identifying” of disorders like autism, she told CBS News.

“In that sense, it could be a sign of progress, and a good thing. But it still opens up an entire agenda of things we need to do to prevent disability and improve outcomes overall,” Durkin said.

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