Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in Children With Developmental Disorders: An Analysis of the National Survey of Children’s Health Dataset


  • Leah Alexander, Neuroscience, University of Delaware
  • Danielle Williams, Occupational Therapy, University of Delaware

Faculty Mentor(s)

  • Anjana Bhat, Physical Therapy, University of Delaware


     Children with developmental disabilities (DD) display various functional limitations(motor, social, and cognitive) which can negatively impact their physical and mental health. Children with these impairments are 3-4 times more likely to have mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and behavioral conduct problems compared to typically developing (TD) children (NIH, 2016). The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant social restrictions, online schooling, and uncertainty regarding public health and safety, which may have also impacted the mental health of children with DD. In 2021, the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative conducted a National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH, N=60809), a large-scale parent survey in the US that evaluated children’s health and related factors. We conducted an analysis of the NSCH dataset to evaluate the prevalence of mental health issues in children from 6-17 years with various DD, and compared them to TD children. We scored four mental health-related variables as performance scores, including executive function, school, social, and participation performance. Furthermore, we evaluated the presence of anxiety, depression, and behavior/conduct problems by calculating percentages. We found that all performance scores were lower in the DD population as compared to the TD sample. Of the children with DD, 94-100% were reporting anxiety, 85-94% were reporting depression, and 91-98% were reporting behavioral/conduct problems. Our findings of significant mental health challenges and concurrent poor social/cognitive problems add to the current evidence. The high proportions of anxiety, depression, and behavioral/conduct problems in children with DD are significantly greater than what has been reported in the past, and may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and its related consequences. Future research should corroborate these findings with similar surveys, and parents/ educators should work to have programs in place to alleviate the reported mental health issues in children with DD.