According to an analysis of the most recent National Survey of Children’s Health, the four influences most strongly tied to having a child with a mental, behavioral or developmental disability are:
* difficulty getting by on family income
* problems finding adequate child care
* lack of a “medical home,” or home base for a child’s medical care
* and poor to fair parental mental health.
The study – Health Care Family and Community Factors Associated with Mental, Behavioral and Developmental Disorders in Early Childhood - United States – appears this week in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (Follow the title link to read the full report.)
The researchers conclude that their findings underscore the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation that the most effective way to promote children’s healthy development is to direct resources toward improving healthcare and supporting families and communities.
Autism and other developmental disorders affect people across the socioeconomic spectrum. But researchers have long suspected that poverty and poor access to medical services increases the risk, in part through less than optimal pregnancies.
“These findings add to the growing evidence that developmental issues – including autism – are concentrated among our most disadvantaged and vulnerable communities,” comments Andy Shih, Autism Speaks senior vice president for scientific affairs. “We have an unparalleled opportunity to improve our children’s overall health and quality of life by understanding and addressing the factors – including social influences on health – that have the greatest impact on early development.”
National survey yields new insights
The new findings are based on an analysis of parent-reported information from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health. Conducted every four years, this CDC phone survey gathers parent-reported information on the health of one child in each participating family. The new report is based on an “early childhood” subgroup of responses from more than 35,000 parents of children ages 2 to 8.
Investigators asked parents if their child had ever been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder such as autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, intellectual disability, oppositional defiant disorder or language problems. One out of seven of the surveyed parents (around 15 percent) reported that their child had been diagnosed with such a disorder.
The researchers also asked parents a wide range of questions about their family and community. They then analyzed the results to identify the family and community factors most strongly associated with a child having a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder.
“These data support the Institute of Medicine recommendation that resources directed toward improving health care and supporting families and communities are needed to prevent mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, and promote healthy development among all young children,” the study concludes. “Such investments would require substantial collaboration across public health, pediatric and other agencies responsible for providing services to children, but could yield widespread benefits for early childhood and lifelong health.”