Navigate Up

UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
For Journalists
Media Coordinator
Telephone: 412-692-6254
Telephone: 412-877-1656
Patient & Other Inquiries

Childhood Disability Rates Highest Recorded, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Finds

PITTSBURGH, Aug. 18, 2014 – The percentage of children with disabilities due to neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions continues to rise, particularly among children in more socially advantaged households, according to a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC analysis that appears in the September issue of Pediatrics.
Results of the study, led by Amy Houtrow, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., chief, Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s Hospital, found that while there has been a decline in physical health-related disabilities by approximately 12 percent, there was a large, nearly 21 percent rise in disabilities classified as neurodevelopmental or mental health in nature.
The researchers studied data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2001 and 2011, evaluating each child’s ability to perform activities at home and school.
Although children living in poverty have the highest rates of disability, children living in families at or above 400 percent of the federal poverty level reported a 28.4 percent increase in disabilities over the past 10-year period.
Dr. Houtrow and the researchers offered four reasons that may explain the increased rates of disability related to neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions:
  • shifts in diagnostic criteria
  • overall increases in rates of certain problems including autism
  • increased awareness of these conditions
  • the need for a specific diagnosis to receive services such as early intervention
“This study demonstrates what a lot of pediatricians have been noticing for several years - that they are seeing more neurodevelopmental and mental health problems in their clinical practices,” said Dr. Houtrow, who also is an associate professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Pediatrics and vice chair in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “As we look toward the future, the pediatric health care workforce and system needs to adapt to assure the best possible health and functional outcomes for children with disabilities related to neurodevelopmental and mental health conditions.”
The authors concluded that documenting the changes in childhood disabilities is an important step in developing better prevention and treatment strategies and in determining how to create and deliver services to best meet the needs of all children.
Co-investigators were: Kandyce Larson, Ph.D., and Lynn M. Olson, Ph.D., American Academy of Pediatrics; Paul Newacheck, Dr.P.H., University of California San Francisco; and Neal Halfon M.D., M.P.H., University of California Los Angles.
The research was funded by grants K12H133B031102 and T76MC000141900 from the National Institutes of Health and Department of Health and Human Services.
For more information on Dr. Houtrow and the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine, visit

UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences Supplemental content provided by Healthwise, Incorporated. To learn more, visit

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

Pittsburgh, PA, USA |