“Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” –Fred Rogers
A new study published puts its finger on the pulse of childhood disabilities in America. The overall trend: mental and developmental disabilities have become significantly more prevalent in the last decade. But just as interestingly, there are different narratives emerging for richer and poorer families.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported on the findings of the study, which involved nearly 200,000 children. Parents reported on chronic conditions in their children, from birth age to 17 years old, between 2000 and 2011.
From the AP article, some of the numbers:
Overall, disabilities of any kind affected 8 percent of children by 2010-11, compared with close to 7 percent a decade earlier. For children living in poverty, the rate was 10 percent at the end of the period, versus about 6 percent of kids from wealthy families.
The overall trend reflects a 16 percent increase, while disabilities in kids from wealthy families climbed more than 28 percent, the researchers found. The trend was fueled by increases in attention problems, speech problems and other mental or developmental disorders that likely include autism, although that condition isn’t identified in the analyzed data.
What we’re taking away from this: poverty continues to be an aggravating factor for disabilities of all types. A lack of access to therapies, equipment and other basic resources makes a disability a much scarier obstacle for a poorer family. It’s not just about money, it’s about time: taking critical time off work to drive your child to the doctor, or finding the resources to seek treatments.
It’s a reminder to us that our mission is essential. By stepping in to pay for equipment, or to do the legwork to find those resources, we remove a crushing burden from parents in addition to securing a better future for their child.
Likewise, even better-off families need a helping hand. As a nation, we’re seeing an incredible rise in developmental disabilities ranging from autism to ADHD. The study found this surge to be the most prevalent in wealthier families.
Seeking answers as to why, this article from Philly.com posits that it’s a growing awareness and increased access to online information that leads parents to diagnose and then seek treatment for their children. (It should be noted that Variety works extensively with children with autism and other developmental disabilities).
On a positive note, the study also found a significant drop in childhood physical disabilities: about 12 percent, which researchers chalk up to declines in asthma-related problems or childhood injuries. We’re hoping that as the medical field grows to understand the mechanics behind the autistic spectrum, we can turn the tide and see similar drops!