News Reports

Increased Diagnoses of ADHD and Autism in Higher-Income Families

Better awareness and detection of neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit and autism spectrum disorders may explain the jump in diagnoses.

September 17, 2014

The number of children with developmental conditions, such as autism and ADHD, increased by 28 percent for some families, a new study shows.

Led by Dr. Amy Houtrow at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the two-year project found that poor homes have the highest known rates of intellectual and physical disabilities in children. The study also found that reports of pediatric mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders are climbing faster in families that make $95,400 and above.

Houtrow explains that the discovery does not necessarily mean impairments are proliferating more rapidly in higher-income families. Instead, she said, it could reflect better awareness, detection, and services for those with easier access to health care.

Researchers found that 54 of 1,000 children in wealthier households in 2011 had known disabilities related to mental health or neurodevelopmental concerns, including learning disabilities or language disorders. That was up 28.4 percent in 10 years.

Meanwhile, 83 of 1,000 children in poverty had such impairments in 2011, up from 72 per 1,000 in 2001. Doctors cite premature birth rates, inadequate access to health care and other struggles in explaining chronic health problems among the poor.

It’s understandable that lower-income families would have less time, less information, and fewer resources to investigate care that might ease or prevent developmental conditions, says Daniel A. Torisky, president of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.

“If this is true, it’s a wake-up call for advocacy organizations — all of us,” he said of Houtrow’s study. “We’ve got to keep getting the word out about possible causes so people can avail themselves of information.”

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