There has been a 17 percent increase in the past ten years in parental reports of developmental disabilities in children aged 3-17. Based upon research published in the June, 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the disabilities showing the greatest increases were Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). About 6.7 percent of children had a diagnosis of ADHD, and .5 percent of children were diagnosed as autistic.
About one in six children are reported by parents to have some type of developmental problem, which include disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, hearing loss, learning disability, intellectual limitations, autism, ADHD or other developmental problems. It’s unclear if the increase in childhood disabilities is due to better diagnoses, or represents an actual increase the prevalence of these problems.
With so many children affected by significant developmental issues, parents need to be sensitive, assertive, and well-informed about how to manage such problems with their children.
1.Seek guidance early. Most developmental problems can be identified prior to your child entering school. Severe forms of autism can be diagnosed sometime between 1½ and 2 years of age. Seek the guidance of your primary care physician if you have any questions or concerns.
2. Know when to ask for a second opinion.Medical doctors are not always experts in childhood developmental problems. Don’t be reluctant to ask your physician for a referral to a specialist, typically a developmental pediatrician or psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of childhood problems.
3. Become educated. While severe disabilities are often obvious by two years of age, other developmental problems may be more subtle. If your child is diagnosed with some disorder, read lots of articles to gain a good understanding of your child’s problem. Here are the three key questions you should ask the professional who assesses your child. (1) What is the basis of your diagnosis? (2) What are the treatment options and which ones do you recommend? (3) How can I help my child?
4. Get involved There is no magic medicine or instant cure for children with developmental problems. Various therapies, and sometimes medications, can help. However, please recognize that you will have to take on a major role in the treatment of your child. Enroll in parenting classes, join a support group, and get connected with advocacy groups in your area.
Children with such problems will change the dynamics within your family. Be mindful of the needs of your other children, and those of your spouse. Don’t become so absorbed in the special needs of your child that you forget about taking care of yourself.
5.Be wary of misdiagnoses. The more severe the disability, the greater the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis. Milder forms of autism, ADHD, or other problems may be missed or misdiagnosed. Be particularly careful of a diagnosis of ADHD with any boy under the age of 10. I’ve found that many normal boys get inaccurately labeled as having a non-existent disability.
Next week: Questions from readers