CDC report reveals significant increase in developmental disabilities among children stemming from COVID-related restrictions
An official report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed that the number of American children diagnosed with a developmental or learning disability has significantly increased amid the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The CDC report indicated a rise in the number of cases in developmental conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, cerebral palsy and dyslexia. Many experts not involved with the CDC report believe that the draconian restrictions enforced during the pandemic may be related to this rise.
Data revealed that from 2019 to 2021, the number of children ages three to 17 diagnosed with any developmental disability increased from 7.4 percent to 8.5 percent, indicating a 17 percent increase.
“For many children, the lack of a consistent social encounter may have resulted in their potential symptoms of autism to become more evident, prompting parents to discuss [that] with their pediatrician,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Further, COVID-19 itself has shown to cause mental health changes in many patients, likely influencing some of the symptoms exhibited by the children.”
The results in the CDC report build on previous studies that suggest potential links between pandemic restrictions, such as mask mandates, school closures and online learning, to significant declines in academic performance and development. (Related: Signs of abnormal mental development and common disorders in children.)
Benjamin Zablotsky, a statistician for the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics and lead author of the report, said researchers like him want to learn more about the prevalence of these conditions in the population to ensure that there are “adequate services available for families and children who need them.”
The results of the report were part of the CDC’s ongoing National Health Interview Survey, which gathered national data via face-to-face interviews with 30,000 adults and 9,000 children.
The results also revealed that:
- At least three percent of kids have autism, a figure that decreased slightly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- About 2.6 percent of children received a diagnosis between three and seven years old.
- At least 3.4 percent of children were diagnosed between eight and 17 years old.
- Young boys were three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism compared to girls. Only 1.5 percent of girls had it, while 4.7 percent of boys had been diagnosed.
The data implies that boys develop these health issues more often than girls because girls have a “female protective model.”
Pandemic restrictions hampered children’s growth
The CDC’s finding that developmental issues are steadily on the rise follows evidence that various coronavirus pandemic restrictions hampered children’s growth.
In one study conducted by scientists from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, they examined 309 infants born between March and May 2020.
Their parents were surveyed about 10 developmental milestones after their child turned one year old, including:
- Being able to stand
- Finger pointing
- Saying one definite word
- Stacking bricks
- Stepping sideways
- Waving goodbye
The results were compared to 2,000 infants born between 2008 and 2011. The results found that lockdown babies were 14 percent less likely to have said one definite word.
Additionally, lockdown babies were nine percent less likely to have started pointing, and at least six percent less likely to wave goodbye.
The research team explained that COVID-19 lockdown measures may have “reduced the repertoire of language heard and the sight of unmasked faces speaking to [infants].”
They added that the strict measures enforced across the country have reduced the opportunity for babies and young children to discover new items of interest, which might prompt pointing and the frequency of social contacts to enable them to learn to wave goodbye.
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