ADHD, asthma, autism in children increase: 15 things parents can do

The rates of ADHD, asthma, and autism in children continue to escalate in shocking numbers, and quite obviously, unless parents take action, the prevalence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, asthma, and Autism Spectrum Disorder will continue to rise.

A new research study published by the journal Pediatrics on February 13, 2017, states that ADHD, asthma, and autism are not only increasing but can also be linked to a family’s income.

Some interesting discoveries

rates of adhd, autism, asthma rise

The increasing rates of ADHD, asthma, and autism worry parents.

The study, which is titled Poverty and Trends in Three Common Chronic Disorders, concludes that children of lower income families are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or asthma while children from higher income families are more often diagnosed with autism.

Dr. Christian Pulcini from the Children’s Hospital of the Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania and his colleagues examined 2003 to 2012 data provided by the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH)and came to the following results:

  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) rose about 44% among U.S. children aged 0 to 17.
  • ADHD among children living below the Federal Poverty Level increased 43.2%.
  • ADHD among children living above the Federal Poverty Level increased 33.4%.

The rates of asthma in children showed a similar finding: 

  • Asthma increased on average 18%.
  • Asthma among children living below the Federal Poverty Level increased 25.8%.
  • Asthma among children living above the Federal Poverty Level increased 13.4%.

The prevalence of autism in children surprised the researchers: 

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) increased “almost 400%,” states the study.
  • ASD among children living below the Federal Poverty Level increased 13.3%.
  • ASD among children living above the Federal Poverty Level increased 36.0% (actually higher than for children living below FPL).

The number 400% is not a typo:

“Parent-reported lifetime prevalence of asthma and ADHD rose 18% and 44%, respectively, whereas the lifetime prevalence of ASD rose almost 400%,” states the study.

How the rates of children’s ADHD, asthma, and autism were determined

“[W]e conducted a data analysis using the 3 waves of the [NSCH] from 2003 through 2012,” Dr. Christian Pulcini writes. “Within this study’s time period, there was a rise in parent-reported lifetime prevalence of all 3 target disorders.”

NSCH stands for the National Survey of Children’s Health. The rather unbelievable prevalence of autism in higher income families is apparently due to a change in the questionnaires for parents. As of latest reports, the journal Pediatrics is taking a closer look at the number and will add a revision, if warranted.

As for the definition of poverty, the simplified 2015 Federal Poverty Level guidelines, which are used for 2016 cost assistance and taxes filed April 15, 2017, lists the following person per household and annual income numbers:

The 2015 Federal Poverty Level guidelines

People per HouseholdAnnual Income


According to Christian Pulcini and his colleagues, the above results can be summarized as the following:

“Poverty status differentially influenced parent-reported lifetime prevalence and comorbidities of these target disorders. Future research is needed to examine parent and system-level characteristics that may further explain poverty’s variable impact.”

While Pulcini’s study about the increasing ADHD rate, asthma frequency, and autism prevalence established an interesting link between a family’s income and the disorders, our case studies show that these three crucial health issues were not as much influenced by a family’s poverty level but by knowledge and awareness about ADHD, asthma, and autism.

Are ADHD rates really increasing?

CDC map of ADHD rates

The ADHD map provided by the CDC covers all of the U.S.

According to the CDC, about 11% of children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as of 2012. Eleven percent means 6.4 million children living in the United States.

Similar to the ADHD study presented by Christian Pulcini and his colleagues, the CDC emphasizes that this number is based on parent reporting. There is no diagnostic test available for the learning disability.

The American Psychiatric Association mentions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that 5% of children have ADHD.

After having worked with hundreds of students with learning disabilities for the past 25 years, the rates of ADHD among children is (according to our experience) actually much smaller.  In fact, out of dozens of students who came into our classrooms with an ADHD diagnosis from their previous schools – only two students actually had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

And those two students were girls!

Despite numerous reports that seem to indicate that the rate of ADHD is higher in boys, we could not confirm that. Maybe it was due to the fact that the boys in our school were not confined to a classroom chair for hours?

What we did discover was that the majority of boys who came to us with an ADHD diagnosis from their previous school had really an emotional disability which was confirmed by psychologists.

It was quite interesting to observe that those misdiagnosed ADHD boys had either a physically or emotionally absent father in the family.

15 crucial things parents can do for their children

When it comes to ADHD, there are five major things parents can do:

  1. Observe your child at home: If your school suggests that your child is not performing well in class because he or she might be suffering from ADHD, watch how your child acts and focuses when he or she is involved in an activity that he or she chooses and likes.
  2. Do a thorough family history: ADHD is, like dyslexia, most often inherited. Even if you as parents do not show any ADHD symptoms, it is important to take a look at grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.
  3. Understand that ADHD has two sides: Where there is a curse, there is also a gift. Does your child have the diverse energy that it would take to become an inventor or entrepreneur?
  4. Get a second opinion: Schools are not psychologists, and ADHD should be diagnosed by a professional (who will not benefit financially by prescribing medications).
  5. Ask yourself if your child is experiencing an emotional disability: ADHD symptoms reflect very much the symptoms seen in children with emotional disabilities. Please check our Emotional Disabilities article to eliminate that possibility.

Finding out whether or not your child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or any emotional disability is crucial because the treatment for both is quite different.

When it comes to asthma, there are also five major things parents can do:

  1. Have your child tested for allergies: According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, dust mites are the most common trigger of year-round allergies and asthma (unless you live in Antarctica).
  2. Remove carpet and stuffed toys from your child’s room: Carpets and stuffed toys are a big culprit when it comes to asthma symptoms because they are the best home for dust mites, mold, mildew, fungi, and chemicals.
  3. Cover pillows and bed mattresses with allergy and dust mite proof protectors: When a child sleeps, its head and body is resting for hours right on top of the worst allergy-causing culprits.
  4. Put an excellent air cleaner in your child’s room: You will be amazed at the amount of dust you will be able to see in the cleaner’s filter.
  5. Try eliminating artificial colors from your child’s diet: Not every child reacts to artificial colors the same. Even though the FDA has approved the major food colors (FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Blue No. 2, FD&C Green No. 3, FD&C Red No. 40, FD&C Red No. 3, FD&C Yellow No. 5, and FD&C Yellow No. 6), our students experienced a major decrease in allergy symptoms once they reduced their intake of artificial food coloring. Once our students learned to read labels carefully, they were shocked to find the culprits in children’s vitamin and over-the-counter or prescribed medicines.

Asthma can be a life-threatening condition for a child and warrants medical attention. However, after implementing the above major techniques, the parents of our students felt that they had contributed immensely to the well-being of their children.

When it comes to autism spectrum disorder, there are five major things parents must do:

  1. Educate yourself about the symptoms of autism: The CDC is providing more than 50 symptoms for autism spectrum disorder.
  2. Know your child: As the CDC describes, signs of autism usually begin before the age of 3. Unfortunately, many parents misinterpret ASD for a mere developmental delay.
  3. Communicate thoroughly with your child’s physician: Pediatric medical staff members are familiar with the milestones that a child should achieve at a certain age. If your child’s doctor is too busy, ask for information material on a child’s development. Do not rely only on information found on the Internet.
  4. Don’t rely on your child’s school evaluation: Not one of the students who applied to our school was correctly diagnosed with autism even though we were able to see the signs within minutes of first meeting a child. Instead of ASD, students came to us with a diagnosis of auditory processing disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  5. Time is of the essence: The sooner children with autism get the proper health and educational assistance, the happier they (and you) are.

We have heard the story shared by one mom in the below video over and over again from parents:

Based on our experience, it is no surprise that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder in families above the Federal Poverty Level rose much higher between 2003 to 2012 than in families living at or below the FPL. Families with financial means are generally persistent when it comes to getting answers from the medical profession.

Also based on our experience, there are too many undiagnosed autistic children out there — especially in low income families. The most frightening aspect for us was meeting parents who simply did not want to even hear that their child had autism spectrum disorder.

Christian Pulcini’s research study and the findings that ADHD rates and the prevalence of asthma increased tremendously in families living below the FPL is no surprise. Parents living below the FPL spend their life trying to provide a home and food for their children.

However, putting energy into your child does not have to depend on financial income – but education and time.

Below are some of the items that the parents of our students use: 

Honeywell HPA300 Air purifier
Some of our students' parents were not able to remove carpet from their home because they were renting. The Hoover Carpet Cleaner Max is number 1 on Consumer Reports list and we all agree. This carpet cleaning machine is our favorite because it cleans carpets, hardwood floors, and furniture.All of our parents used this hypoallergenic mattress cover. The SureGuard mattress encasement comes in all sizes, is 100% waterproof, has a great zipper, and comes with a 10-year warranty. In addition to pillow covers, this is one of the best investments, not just for children with allergies.

The SureGuard pillow covers also come in all sizes. Your child spends hours on a pillow and breathes in whatever the pillow contains!Finding a great air purifier has been an extreme challenge over the years. We now use the Honeywell HPA300 Air purifier, which is the number one rated air purifier by Consumer's Report. It is also the only one with a high rating. After years of using several air cleaners, we fully agree.