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Autism a Major Piece of the Child Mental Health Picture

CDC releases new report on the prevalence of child mental health conditions in the U.S.
May 16, 2013

In an effort to present a comprehensive picture of child mental health conditions in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for the first time, released a comprehensive report today on “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children” in the U.S. from 2005-2011. The new report summarizes findings from numerous research studies and data sources used to monitor the occurrence of various child mental health conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, in the community.

Described as “serious deviations from expected cognitive, social, and emotional development,” mental disorders are known to affect 13% – 20% of children and cost society an estimated $247 billion annually. Further, the prevalence of many child mental health conditions is increasing over time. The current report found the most common child mental health conditions among children aged 3-17 years to include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (6.8%), behavioral or conduct problems (3.5%), anxiety (3.0%), depression (2.1%) and autism spectrum disorders (1.1%).

As reported last March, Autism is estimated to affect 1 in 88 children (1.1%) in the U.S., based on data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. However, in the more recent National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), parents reported that 1 in 50 school-age children (2%) have an autism spectrum disorder.  This strongly suggests that we are significantly underestimating prevalence and that autism is an urgent public health issue requiring a national public health response.

“This is a realization of just how common autism and other child mental health conditions are in the U.S.,” said Michael Rosanoff, associate director of public health research at Autism Speaks. “Now we must understand how individuals with autism may be at risk for co-occurring mental health conditions, and to urgently make appropriate and affordable supports available.”

The report published today as a supplement in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, further highlighted the importance of ongoing child mental health surveillance efforts in the U.S., supported and managed by numerous Department of Health and Human Services divisions including the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to measuring prevalence of these conditions, surveillance systems allow for collection of data on co-morbid medical conditions, access to healthcare services and quality of life.

“Child mental health issues start early and so should services,” said Liz Feld, President of Autism Speaks. “Increased detection, treatments, and resources for children with mental health conditions and their families must happen at the community level, with support at the national level.”