ADHD + Autism diagnoses are on the rise—but so is support for kids

Increased diagnoses means there's been an increase in awareness of these disabilities, along with more screening for them.

ADHD + Autism diagnoses are on the rise—but so is support for kids

A new study shows more children in the United States have been diagnosed with a developmental disability than ever before. From 2009-2017, the total percentage went from 16.2 to 17.8%, with much of that increase coming from increased diagnoses of ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Before you let these numbers alarm you, however, you should know that experts think this is actually a very good thing.

The study was done by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the journal Pediatrics this week. It looked at data collected from a national survey on about 90,000 children ages 3-17, asking parents whether their children had been diagnosed with any of 10 possible developmental disabilities. It found that ADHD went up from 8.5% to 9.5%, autism spectrum disorder rose from 1.1% to 2.5%, and intellectual disability rose from 0.9% to 1.2%.


A similar report published in 2011 found that developmental disabilities rose from 12.84% in 1997 to 15.04% in 2008. That means there's been a 38% increase in these diagnoses over the past 22 years. Boys were most likely to be diagnosed than girls. Children with public health insurance and those with family incomes at or above 200% of the poverty level were also more likely to receive diagnoses. Hispanic children were less likely to be diagnosed, though that population saw the highest increase over the past 10 years.

"Measuring the prevalence of developmental disabilities in the population helps to gauge the adequacy of available services and interventions," lead author Benjamin Zablotsky said in a video abstract of the study.

Zablotsky also gave a couple of caveats about the results. First, it's self-reported, relying on parents' information about their children. Second, as he pointed out to HealthDay News, the wording of the survey (an outside survey the authors had no control over) had changed over time, which may have messed with the numbers. Most importantly, these statistics reflect how many kids were diagnosed, not how many have a disability.

That last part is why Maureen Durkin, professor of population health sciences and pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote an editorial in Pediatrics wondering if these numbers are a sign of progress. Increased diagnoses means there's been an increase in awareness of these disabilities, along with more screening for them.

Since 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that all children be screened for ASD at 18 and 24 months. Early diagnoses and early intervention can help improve children's development over time, the AAP states. That's not to say that there hasn't also been an increase in the number of children with these disabilities. People are having kids later in life than they used to, and older parental age is a risk factor for autism, so that would account for a rise. This may also be a side effect of advances in neonatal medicine.

"Similar trends have been reported from other countries and are likely a consequence of improvements in child survival, especially improvements that extend to children at high risk of disability due to risk factors such as preterm birth, brain trauma, and congenital conditions such as Down syndrome," Durkin added.

Regardless of why the numbers are the way they are, this latest study is something policymakers, educators, and doctors all need to keep in mind. Special needs kids aren't a rarity in the world but a significant part of our population deserving of resources and care.

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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