When our ability to treat and understand a particular medical diagnosis goes up, inevitably, the prevalence of the disease in question within society-whether it’s heart disease or autism-seems to increase. The CDC is currently reporting a sharp rise in the number of children and teens who have a developmental disability since the late 1990s . More than 15 percent of kids between the ages of 3 and 17 currently have such a diagnosis (up from about 13 percent in 1997). Most of the increase was seen in autism and ADHD and may be due to better reporting and diagnosis, but the CDC is also, very cautiously, suggesting a real rise in the incidence of both.
CNN says Sheree Boulet, one of the study’s authors and an epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilties, emphasized that “growing awareness and increasing acceptance” of developmental disabilities probably played a large role in the increase, but agreed that there may also be an actual increase in the occurrence of disabilities. Researchers pointed to the “shift toward having babies later in life, more premature births, and the growing use of fertility treaments” as possible explanations for any increase.
“The rise in disabilities,” say the study’s authors, “points to a growing need for specialized health and social services.” That would be exactly the kind of care that is becoming increasingly hard to find. It’s yet another instance where we, as a nation, know what our needs are-but we still can’t figure out how to meet them.