OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to estimate the prevalence of developmental and behavioral disorders in a convenience sample of children in an acute care pediatric hospital setting. We hypothesized that hospitalized children would have a higher prevalence of developmental and behavioral disorders than the general population.

METHODS: Data for this cross-sectional study were collected during interviews with primary caregivers of 325 children from infancy throughout childhood who were admitted to a general pediatric service. Screening tests included the Child Development Inventory (3 months to 6 years), Parents’ Evaluation of Developmental Status (0–8 years), Pediatric Symptom Checklist (4–18 years), and Vanderbilt Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Parent Rating Scale (6–18 years). Children were classified as having a known developmental and behavioral disorder, a suspected developmental and behavioral disorder, or no developmental and behavioral disorder.

RESULTS: The prevalence of developmental and behavioral disorders among the hospitalized children 6 months to 17 years of age was 33.5%. A total of 72 children (22.1%) had known developmental and behavioral disorders and 37 (11.4%) had suspected developmental and behavioral disorders. This high prevalence of developmental and behavioral disorders included high rates of cerebral palsy (6.1%) and mental retardation or developmental delay (8.6%).

CONCLUSION: Hospitalization for treatment of acute conditions provides another opportunity for developmental surveillance. This higher prevalence of developmental and behavioral disorders in hospitalized children emphasizes the need to screen for developmental disabilities at every opportunity. Strategies to implement systematic screening of hospitalized children should be examined.

Comment: One out of three hospitalized children perform poorly on a screening test, suggesting that routine developmental-behavioral screening is essential. Nevertheless, parents of children already enrolled in special services do not need screening, and will under-report developmental delays given likely satisfaction with services. Asking parents about which services they already receive is wise.