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The Well-Being of Canada’s Young Children: Government of Canada Report 2011

Chapter 9 - What Do We Know About Young Children with Disabilities in Canada? Footnote 153

9.1 Introduction

When examining the Canadian population, the situation of young children with disabilities presents one of the greatest challenges for researchers. While defining "disability" is a challenge for any age group, it is particularly difficult with young children because the full impact of many underlying conditions is often difficult to detect in children in the early stages of development.

For the purposes of the 2006 Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS), children with disabilities were identified based upon a set of questions regarding difficulty, "hearing, seeing, communicating, walking, climbing stairs, bending, learning or doing any similar activities"; and, the presence of a "physical condition or mental condition or health problem" which reduces the amount or the kind of activity the child can perform at home, school, or in any other pursuit such as transportation or leisure. Footnote 154 PALS 2006 also relied upon information gathered concerning the presence of delayed development or a professional diagnosis of developmental disabilities or disorders, and the presence of a list of chronic health conditions. Footnote 155

This chapter focuses on those children from birth to 4 years of age (inclusive), reflecting the age breakdown used for several, key components of the 2006 PALS Survey. Footnote 156

9.2 Who Are Young Children with Disabilities in Canada?

...Young children have a low rate of disability

The rate of disability among young children in Canada is lower than the rate among adults and older children. This is partly because some disabilities in children have not yet been detected and also because the majority of disabilities are acquired after childhood, often through illness or accident. Footnote 157

In 2006, the disability rate among children from birth to 4 years of age in Canada was 1.7% (2.1% for boys and 1.2% for girls). This represents some 27,540 children (17,770 boys and 9,770 girls). Footnote 158

This compares to a rate of 4.6% among children aged 5 to 14 years (5.7% for boys and 3.4% for girls) and a rate of 16.6% among those aged 15 and over.

...And the majority had mild to moderate disabilities

The majority of disabilities in children from birth to 4 years of age ranged from "mild to moderate" in nature. Footnote 159 According to the 2006 PALS, 63.4% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age had a "mild to moderate" disability (representing 17,460 children); while 36.6% (representing 10,080 children) had a "severe to very severe" disability.

...And the majority had chronic conditions

The most prevalent disability type among children from birth to 4 years of age was "chronic condition". Chronic condition is described as "a limit in the amount or kind of activities that one can do due to the presence of one or more chronic health conditions that have lasted or are expected to last six months or more" and "that have been diagnosed by a health professional." Footnote 160 In 2006, 69.8% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age (19,230 children) had some type of "chronic condition". "Developmental delay" Footnote 161 was also very common among children from birth to 4 years of age, with 62.1% (17,090 children) of young children with disabilities being affected. Footnote 162

Figure 35: A link to the description follows the image

Text description of Figure 35 - Type of Disability for Children Birth to 4 Years of Age in Canada, 2006

...Nearly one in five young children with disabilities lived in a lone-parent family

19.6% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age lived in lone-parent families in 2006.

...Nearly one in six young children with disabilities lived in a low-income family

17.5% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age lived in families with incomes below the after-tax low-income cut-off (LICO). Footnote 163

...While nearly three in ten young children with disabilities lived in housing requiring minor repairs

According to the 2006 PALS, 29.9% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age lived in a dwelling needing minor repairs while 14% lived in a dwelling needing major repairs.

...Almost three quarters of young children with disabilities lived in urban centres

74.2% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age lived in urban centres in 2006. Footnote 164 The likelihood of living in an urban centre varied with the severity of the child’s disability. For example, 79.2% of young children with severe to very severe disabilities lived in urban centres while 71.3% of young children with mild to moderate disabilities lived in urban centres.

9.3 What Are the Impacts of Having a Child with a Disability?

...Young children with disabilities had an impact on parental employment

The presence of a young child with a disability can have an impact on the employment situation of parents. Footnote 165 The more severe the disability, the more likely the family was to experience some type of labour force impact. According to the 2006 PALS, for example, 58.1% of children from birth to 4 years of age with mild to moderate disabilities had at least one parent whose employment was affected by the child’s disability; while 71.5% of young children with severe to very severe disabilities experienced some type of impact on parental employment.

The most commonly reported employment impacts were working fewer hours (approximately 37%) and changing the hours worked (approximately 37%). Other types of employment impacts reported among families of young children with disabilities included not taking a job (29%); quitting paid employment (22.3%); and turning down a promotion or turning down a better job (17.1%). Parents often reported more than one type of employment impact.

Figure 36: A link to the description follows the image

Text description of Figure 36 - Employment Impacts on Parents of Children with Disabilities Birth to 4 Years of Age in Canada, 2006

...Half of parents of young children with disabilities reported using child care

According to the 2006 PALS, parents of 51.6% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age reported using some type of child care.

The form of child care most often used (52.2%) involved care in child care facilities such as daycare centres, before and after school programs, and nursery school or preschool. Other types of child care used by parents of young children with disabilities included: care in someone else’s home (34.2%), and; care in the child’s home (13.6%).

...Parents of young children with disabilities required other supports within the home

Parents of children with disabilities often require support to balance the care of their child with other aspects of their home life. In the 2006 PALS, the type of support most frequently identified as a need was help to allow time off for personal activities (40.1% of parents). Other required supports reported among parents of young children with disabilities included help with other family responsibilities (33.9%); and help with housework (17.8%). Roughly 45% or more of parents requiring each of these types of supports had none of their requirements met. Footnote 166

Figure 37: A link to the description follows the image

Text description of Figure 37 - Requirements for Supports Within the Home for Parents of Children with Disabilities from Birth to 4 Years of Age in Canada, 2006

...Just over a third of parents of young children with disabilities reported high levels of stress

Just over a third of parents of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age reported experiencing high levels of stress, while just over a quarter reported experiencing moderate levels of stress. Footnote 167

While the level of stress did not vary significantly with the severity of the young child’s disability, the nature of the stress did. For example, as the severity of the child’s disability increased, so did the likelihood of a parent reporting stress concerning the health of the child. 57% of parents of children from birth to 4 years and under with severe to very severe disabilities reported experiencing stress due to the health of the child compared with 19.5% of parents of young children with mild to moderate disabilities. Footnote 168


  • 153Acknowledgement for the development of this chapter is extended to Caterina van Herpt, HRSDC. Return to reference 153
  • 154The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS) for Children (2001 and 2006) is a post-censal survey designed to collect detailed information about children with disabilities in Canada including type of disability and severity level. Return to reference 154
  • 155The 2008 report of The Well-Being of Canada’s Young Children: Government of Canada Report 2008 provided a profile of young children with disabilities using Cycle 6 (2004/05) of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). NLSCY relies upon a different set of filter questions to detect the presence of a disability than PALS. For this reason, there can be no comparison between the results of the NLSCY and the results of the 2006 PALS. This chapter reports findings of 2006 PALS data on young children with disabilities. Return to reference 155
  • 156While children from birth to 4 years of age and those 5 to 14 years of age were asked many common questions, there were a number of questions that were not asked of younger children. In particular, there were differences in the types of disabilities and the number of severity levels identified. For some profile data on children 5 to 14 years of age with disabilities, refer to: Statistics Canada (2008). Profile of disability for children. Ottawa: Statistics Canada website Return to reference 156
  • 157 Statistics Canada (2009). Table 3.1-1 Disability rates by sex and age, Canada, 2006. Ottawa: Statistics Canada website Return to reference 157
  • 158Statistics Canada (2009). Table 3.1-1 Disability rates by sex and age, Canada, 2006. Ottawa: Statistics Canada website Return to reference 158
  • 159For children from birth to 4 years of age in the 2006 PALS, severity level is divided into only two groups: "mild to moderate" and "severe to very severe". The severity scale is based upon the number of types of activity limitations and the intensity of the limitations. Return to reference 159 
  • 160Examples of chronic conditions are asthma or severe allergies, heart condition or disease, kidney condition or disease, cancer, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, fetal alcohol syndrome. Return to reference 160
  • 161For children from birth to 4 years of age, developmental delay is described as a "delay" in the child’s development which is either a "physical, intellectual or another type". Return to reference 161
  • 162Among children from birth to 4 years of age in 2006, only five types of disabilities were identified. In order of prevalence among children with disabilities in this age group, these disability types were: chronic illness (69.8%); developmental delay (62.1%); hearing, seeing (each reported by just under 12% of children); and unknown disability type (6.6% – use with caution due to low sample size). Return to reference 162 
  • 163This excludes children living in the Territories for whom LICO is not available. Using the before-tax LICO, 27.4% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age lived in families with incomes below LICO. Return to reference 163
  • 164"Urban areas have total populations of at least 1 000 with a population density of no fewer than 400 persons per square kilometre." Statistics Canada website (2008). Participation and Activity Limitation Survey of 2006: A Profile of Education for Children with Disabilities in Canada. Cat. 89-628-XWE 2008 - Number 4. Return to reference 164
  • 165This was reported by 63.4% of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age. Return to reference 165
  • 166Roughly 35% or less of parents requiring each of these types of supports had all of their requirements met. Return to reference 166
  • 167More precisely, 35.4% of parents of young children with disabilities reported high levels of stress and 26.8% of parents reported moderate levels of stress. Return to reference 167
  • 168 In PALS 2006, for parents of children with disabilities from birth to 4 years of age, three reasons for stress were identified. In order of prevalence, they were: "work, family, or other" (52.9%); "health of the child" (34.2%); and "financial" (12.9% – use with caution due to low sample size). Return to reference 168

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Date Modified:
2012-05-28