The proportion of children under five with a mental disorder is on the rise in Quebec, according to a report released Tuesday by the Observatoire des Toddlers. In particular, autism spectrum disorder affects a growing number of babies and toddlers.
Entitled “How are young Quebecers doing? The report is the second by the Observatory, which has collected public data on just over half a million preschool children to assess their development and overall health.
The Toddler Observatory, funded by the Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation, reveals worrying data on the mental health of children aged 0-5: an increasing number of them are diagnosed with the spectrum disorder of the autism (ASD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Overall, according to the report, just over 22,000 children are affected by a mental disorder, 4.8%. In the early 2000s, this proportion was 3.5%. “In fact, very little data is recorded to assess the mental health of toddlers, say the report’s authors. The magnitude of the situation could therefore be underestimated. ”
“We do not diagnose very much at a very young age […] explains Christa Japel, professor at UQAM’s department of specialized education and training. But when we look at the numbers, there are many suffering children. ”
Teachers Need To Be Educated
Ms. Japel, who read and commented on a portion of the report before it was published, said that it is important to diagnose mental health disorders as early as possible in children. For example, in the case of ADHD, a diagnosis is accompanied “in principle” by additional resources not only for the toddler who has it, but also for the preschool teacher who will be responsible for it.
Due to lack of sufficient resources, “we burn our teachers,” exclaims the teacher who trains teachers in special education. “You have to think of them too. ”
Few infants are diagnosed with ADHD compared to older children. That said, the proportion of children aged 0 to 5 who receive one has increased significantly over the last 15 years, according to the report, rising from 0.4% to 0.8%.
Autism: the fivefold rate
In the case of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the proportion of children under five who have been diagnosed has increased five-fold in 15 years, from 0.16% to 0.82%. Observatory of toddlers. It still remains less than 1%.
Last October, the National Institute of Public Health in Quebec reported that in 2014-15, there were nearly 17,000 people aged 1 to 17 who had been diagnosed with ASD.
In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association defined ASD as a neurodevelopmental condition that results in a deficit in social interactions, an unusual development of social communication, as well as a restricted and repetitive nature of behaviors, interests and activities.
Christa Japel says that we must not, for all that, speak of an “epidemic”. This increase, she says, may be due to the fact that the criteria for diagnosing ASD “are clearer” than before and that we are more aware of the phenomenon.
More refined evaluations
Formerly, in front of a child who did not speak, the specialists concluded that it was a language disorder or a developmental disability. “We have become more sophisticated in diagnosis,” says Ms. Japel.
The UQAM professor also points out that psychologists can diagnose autism, which they were not allowed to do before 2012. This resource is added to those available to parents “who do not have to wait years for a diagnosis, “says Christa Japel, adding that more and more clinics of psychologists are making autism a specialty.
It should be noted that the proportion of children affected by anxiety and depressive symptoms has been stable since the early 2000s, hovering around 0.4%.
Too few resources for children and their parents
In preschool, many children have difficulties and there are few resources to support them, laments Christa Japel. In this regard, Catherine Dea, medical adviser at the Public Health Department of Montreal, reminded ICI RDI on Tuesday that it was important for the Quebec government to increase access to quality educational childcare services. . This is one of the recommendations in the report “How are Quebec’s toddlers doing?” “.
Another recommendation is to support parents who are “experiencing a lot of stress right now,” says Catherine Dea. They struggle to make ends meet, to find housing, and to reconcile work and family obligations: “It can lead to a mental health problem for parents, which is a risk factor for mental health problems among parents. children, too, “says Ms. Dea.
Not to mention that, in front of a toddler who suffers, many parents are made to feel guilty … The latter may do anything to “have positive parenting and stimulate their child, there are also different genetic factors that explain mental health issues, “says Dr. Dea.
Hence the importance of providing these families with “accessible and quality services,” says the doctor.