The early years are important for laying the foundation for the future. Unfortunately, a chronic illness during these years may impact the skill development needed for future success.
That’s what researchers from the University of Western Australia looked at in a study using the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC).
- Children with a chronic illness were 19% to 36% more likely to be vulnerable/at-risk on each AEDC domain compared to their healthy peers.
What is the research about?
Chronic illnesses are physical health conditions that are lengthy, difficult to treat, and cause impairment or disability. If they interrupt skill development needed for school success, the effects may last even after a child’s health improves.
What did the researchers do?
Researchers used the AEDC to determine the effect of chronic illness on development.
The sample included 22,890 children born in 2003–2004 living in Western Australia in 2009. The researchers linked the AEDC data for these children with administrative data from the WA Department of Health, the Commonwealth Department of Education, and the WA Register of Developmental Anomalies. Chronic illness diagnosis was recorded from the Emergency Department and Hospital Morbidity databases.
The researchers looked at the link between AEDC outcomes and chronic illness, single or multiple chronic illness diagnosis, and diagnosis type.
To find out the specific role of chronic illness the researchers took the following factors into account:
Mother/father with a chronic illness
Mother’s marital status at time of child’s birth
Mother’s age at time of child’s birth
Father’s age at time of child’s birth
Remoteness of community
What did the researchers find?
A total of 2,879 (12.6%) children had a diagnosed chronic illness. Of these, 2,667 (92.6%) had one diagnosis and 212 (7.4%) had two or more diagnoses.
Compared with their healthy peers, children with a chronic illness were 19% to 36% more likely to be vulnerable/at-risk on each AEDC domain.
The researchers also divided the groups based on a child’s number of chronic illnesses. Children with one chronic illness were 17% to 34% more likely to be developmentally vulnerable/at-risk compared to children without a diagnosis. Children with more than one diagnosis were 53% to 85% more likely to be developmentally vulnerable/at-risk compared to children without a diagnosis. There was no increased risk for children with one chronic illness versus those with multiple chronic illnesses.
Next, researchers looked at whether there were disease-specific risks. Researchers compared children with a single diagnosis of any one of the three most prevalent conditions (chronic otitis media, chronic respiratory disease, and epilepsy) to children without a chronic illness. Children diagnosed with otitis media had a 15% to 35% increased risk in vulnerability. Children diagnosed with respiratory disease had a 24% to 45% increased risk. There was no increased risk for children diagnosed with epilepsy.
What does the research mean?
Chronically poor health in early childhood is a risk for development, over and above the effects of socioeconomic factors.
Having one chronic illness is enough to increase the risk of poorer development. Having more than one did not significantly increase this risk.
These risks are likely to be additive over time. Interventions are needed to make sure these children do not fall behind their peers as they progress through school.