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Survey finds rise in diagnosis of developmental disabilities in children from 2019-'21

July 13, 2023

While the estimated prevalence of developmental disabilities in children ages 3-17 rose from 2019-’21, the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability did not change significantly, according to results of the latest National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

The survey found that the prevalence of any diagnosed developmental disability, including autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability or any other developmental delay, increased from 7.4% of children in 2019 to 8.6% in 2021.

Prevalence varied by sex and race and Hispanic origin but not age group.

Developmental disability was higher in boys (10.8%) than girls (5.3%) and similar across age groups. Asian children were less likely to have any developmental disability (4.9%) compared with Hispanic (7.4%), non-Hispanic White (8.4%) and non-Hispanic Black (9.1%) children.

Following are other highlights of the report Diagnosed Developmental Disabilities in Children Aged 3-17 Years: United States, 2019-2021 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

Intellectual disability

  • Intellectual disability diagnoses increased with age: 1.4% for children ages 3-7 years to 2.4% for ages 13-17 years.
  • They were higher in boys (2.3%) than in girls (1.4%).
  • Black children were more likely to receive a diagnosis (2.8%) than Hispanics (1.8%), Whites (1.8%) or Asians (0.7%).

Autism spectrum disorder

  • Autism rates were higher in boys (4.7%) than girls (1.5%).
  • Although autism was more prevalent in Black children (3.6%), there was no significant difference between any of the race and Hispanic-origin groups (White/non-Hispanic, 3.1%; Hispanic, 3%; Asian/non-Hispanic, 2.9%).
  • Children ages 3-7 years old were less likely (2.6%) to have been diagnosed with autism than 8- to 12-year-olds (3.4%) and 13- to 17-year-olds (3.4%).

Other developmental delays

  • Developmental delays other than autism or intellectual disability were more common in boys (7.3%) than girls (4%).
  • The presence of any other developmental delay decreased with age (6.6% for 3- to 7-year-olds; 4.9% for 13- to 17-year-olds).
  • Asian children were less likely (2.5%) to have any other developmental delay compared with Hispanic (5.1%), White (6%) and Black (6.4%) children.
  • Differences in the prevalence of any other developmental delays between Hispanic and Black children and Hispanic and White children were not significant.

The authors noted that because developmental disabilities are common in the U.S. and have increased in recent years, “timely estimates are necessary to assess the adequacy of services and interventions that children with developmental disabilities typically need.”

NHIS is a nationally representative household survey, and estimates are based on parent or guardian report. The questionnaire was revised in 2019, which may impair the ability to compare data with previous years.


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