The State of Children With Disabilities and Special Health Care Needs


In 2019–2020, 19% of kids liv­ing in the Unit­ed States — more than 14 mil­lion chil­dren total — had spe­cial health care needs, accord­ing to a 2022 sum­ma­ry of the Mater­nal and Child Health Bureau’s Nation­al Sur­vey of Children’s Health. Chil­dren with­in this group are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence chron­ic phys­i­cal, devel­op­men­tal, behav­ioral or emo­tion­al con­di­tions and require added care and ser­vices. The same sur­vey also found that: 

  • Close to 30% of U.S. house­holds with chil­dren have at least one child with a spe­cial health care need.
  • Spe­cial health care needs are more com­mon among chil­dren who live in pover­ty and rely on pub­lic health insur­ance when com­pared to chil­dren with­out such needs.
  • Among kids ages 3 to 17 with spe­cial health care needs, more than half (56%) have a cur­rent men­tal health or behav­ioral diag­no­sis, such as ADHD, depres­sion or anxiety.


In the U.S. pub­lic school sys­tem in 2021–22, more than 7 mil­lion stu­dents ages 3 to 21 received spe­cial edu­ca­tion ser­vices for dis­abil­i­ties, accord­ing to the Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics. Since 2010-11, this total has increased by near­ly one mil­lion stu­dents and jumped from rep­re­sent­ing 13% to 15% of the total pub­lic school stu­dent population. 

The most preva­lent dis­abil­i­ties among stu­dents receiv­ing spe­cial edu­ca­tion ser­vices in 2021–22 were: 

  • spe­cif­ic learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties (32%);
  • speech or lan­guage impair­ments (19%);
  • oth­er health impair­ments — a cat­e­go­ry that includes con­di­tions like asth­ma, dia­betes and epilep­sy (15%); and
  • autism (12%).

Oth­er less com­mon dis­abil­i­ties include devel­op­men­tal delays, intel­lec­tu­al dis­abil­i­ties, emo­tion­al dis­tur­bances, mul­ti­ple dis­abil­i­ties, hear­ing impair­ments, ortho­pe­dic impair­ments, visu­al impair­ments, trau­mat­ic brain injuries and deaf-blindness.

Dis­par­i­ties by race and eth­nic­i­ty exist in the 2021–22 data set:

  • The share of U.S. stu­dents receiv­ing spe­cial edu­ca­tion for dis­abil­i­ties was high­est for Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native (19%) and Black (17%) students.
  • Among all spe­cial edu­ca­tion stu­dents ages 14 to 21 who exit­ed school in 2020–21, 75% grad­u­at­ed with a reg­u­lar high school diplo­ma. This out­come was less like­ly for Amer­i­can Indi­an or Alas­ka Native (69%), Black (71%), Lati­no or His­pan­ic (72%) and Pacif­ic Islander (72%) stu­dents as well as stu­dents of mul­ti­ple racial back­grounds (74%).

These find­ings indi­cate that chil­dren and youth of col­or who have dis­abil­i­ties are expe­ri­enc­ing greater hur­dles to aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers, schools, com­mu­ni­ty part­ners, fun­ders and oth­er stake­hold­ers must look to strength­en sup­port for these chil­dren to ensure that that they have equi­table oppor­tu­ni­ties to thrive.


Comments are closed.