Children in rural areas are more likely to have developmental disabilities and are less likely to receive special education or early intervention services than children living in urban areas, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study from the center's National Center for Health Statistics found that almost 20 percent of children ages 3 to 17 in rural areas qualified for a developmental disability diagnosis, compared to roughly 17 percent of children who live in urban areas.
Using data from the nationally representative National Health Interview Survey, researchers explored the prevalence of 10 developmental disability diagnoses: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, blindness, cerebral palsy, moderate to profound hearing loss, learning disability, intellectual disability, seizures, stuttering or stammering, and other developmental delays.
About 11 percent of children living in rural communities were diagnosed with ADHD compared to roughly 9 percent of children in cities. Research has shown that children with ADHD were not taking their medication 40 percent of the time, which could make it difficult for them to focus in class and work with their teachers and classmates.
The study explored whether children had contact with a mental health professional, a medical specialist, or a therapist.
Despite the wider prevalence, children with developmental disabilities in rural areas were "significantly" less likely to have seen a mental health professional, therapist or had a well-child checkup visit in the past year compared to those with similar diagnoses who lived in urban areas.
Children in rural areas were also less likely to receive special education or early intervention services, which should be a point of interest for schools. A 2019 report from the federal Government Accountability Office found that differences in how states identify and evaluate students with disabilities may lead to significant disparities in the percentage of children served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.