More than 15 percent of children ages 2-8 have been diagnosed with a mental, developmental or behavioral disorder, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
That number — one of every seven children — came from an analysis of telephone surveys with parents of 35,000 children in the United States.
The survey included autism spectrum disorder, which has increased in prevalence substantially over the past two decades; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; depression or anxiety problems; behavioral issues such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder; intellectual disabilities; developmental delays; and speech or other language problems.
Chris Gunter, director of communication operations at the Marcus Autism Center and an associate professor in the pediatrics department at Emory University School of Medicine, said she isn't surprised by the increase in how many kids are diagnosed with a disorder.
However, she pointed out that phone survey results don't always match the numbers from scientific surveys.
For example, a recent study placed the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder — just one of the many disorders that were included in the CDC report — at one in 45 children through a phone survey, while a recent CDC report that relies on information from doctors put the number closer in one in 68.
The CDC report isn't bad news, Gunter said. Children being diagnosed earlier means they will receive treatment sooner.
"More parents know what to look for and are willing to ask their pediatricians about it," she said.
Parents know more about child development milestones and of signs that could point to a disorder, she said, and pediatricians are better armed with information.
"I think are you seeing parents asserting better because they have heard more about these things," she said. "For us, that's a big deal. ... If we can intervene earlier, we can change the trajectory of the disorder."
When my son started pre-K last year, his teacher recommended an evaluation for speech therapy. Unsure of the milestones, we agreed, but the therapist found that his speech was right where it should be.
The therapist said a lot of parents push for a diagnosis so their child can be treated as soon as possible.
We were delighted to hear that she believed he was on the right track. His teacher, who had some trouble understanding him at the beginning of the school year, agreed that he was in good shape for his age after she got to know him better.
Georgina Peacock, lead author of the report and director of the CDC's Division of Human Development and Disability, said in an article in Contemporary Pediatrics that the study, which determined some factors prevalent in those diagnosed, should help pediatricians, as well.
"The factors most strongly associated with these disorders were fair or poor parental mental health, lacking a medical home, difficulty getting by on the family's income, and child care problems," she said. "By becoming more aware of the factors identified in this report, pediatricians will be better equipped to identify potential risk factors for mental, behavioral and developmental disorders in early childhood, and factors that may impact the health of children with these disorders."
Awareness is the key to early diagnosis and early intervention, and the new CDC report shows that parents are on the right track to ensure their child isn't overlooked.