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About 1 in 12 children has a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing

Nearly 1 in 12 children ages 3–17 has had a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing in the past 12 months, according to results of the first nationally representative survey of these disorders among children in the United States. Data from a supplement to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) also reveal that more than half of children with a communication or swallowing disorder receive intervention services. The findings are published in a data brief released June 9 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The analysis was done by researchers from NCHS and from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health, which collaborated on the development of the supplemental questions regarding children’s communications disorders and co-funded the study.

Among the 7.7 percent of children with a communication or swallowing disorder, speech problems are most prevalent (5.0 percent), followed by language problems (3.3 percent), voice problems (1.4 percent), and swallowing problems (0.9 percent). More than one-third (34 percent) of children ages 3-10 have multiple voice, speech, language or swallowing disorders, while about one-quarter (25.4 percent) of children ages 11-17 have more than one of these disorders.

To determine the prevalence of communication disorders among children, researchers analyzed information about a child randomly selected from each family participating in the NHIS; the data were collected from a parent or other adult living in the household. The NHIS is a nationally representative survey conducted annually and using personal household interviews to gather information about a range of health topics. Questions were asked about the child’s experience in the past year. Based on the analysis, researchers found that young children ages 3–6, boys, and non-Hispanic black children are more likely than other children to have one of these communication or swallowing disorders.

Early diagnosis and intervention services have shown to be effective in treating communication and swallowing disorders, leading to better quality of life, and in some cases, better academic success. Of the children who were reported to have had a communication or swallowing disorder, more than half (55.2 percent) had received treatment in the past year. Treatments include, for example, speech-language therapy or other intervention services. According to the data brief, children who have speech problems or language problems are more likely to receive intervention services, 67.6 percent and 66.8 percent respectively, compared to those who have voice disorder (22.8 percent) or swallowing problems (12.7 percent).

The data brief also highlights demographic differences among children with communication and swallowing disorders.

  • Boys are more likely than girls to have a communication disorder, 9.6 percent compared to 5.7 percent.
  • The prevalence of communication disorders is highest among children ages 3–6 (11.0 percent), compared to 9.3 percent of children ages 7–10, and 4.9 percent of children ages
  • Nearly one in 10 (9.6 percent) of black children has a communication disorder, compared to 7.8 percent of white children, and 6.9 percent of Hispanic children.

The researchers also reported demographic differences among children who had received services to improve their communication or swallowing disorders.

  • White children with communication or swallowing disorders are more likely to receive intervention services, compared to Hispanic and black children, at 60.1 percent, 47.3 percent, and 45.8 percent respectively.
  • Boys are more likely than girls to receive intervention services, at 59.4 percent and 47.8 percent, respectively.

"While it is encouraging that more than half of children with communication and swallowing disorders have received some form of intervention services, increasing the number of children, particularly black and Hispanic children, who receive intervention services is critical to helping children reach their full potential," said Howard J. Hoffman, M.A., co-author of the data brief and NIDCD director of epidemiology and statistics.


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